A Message from Bob Stronge, Advice NI CEO

Welcome to the autumn edition of Advice Matters. I hope everyone has had a good summer. In the last edition I highlighted the following:

“It is difficult to believe that we have come so far and experienced so much but still managed as a sector to assist so many people. We will need to be able to continue to do so as government support measures come to an end. In this respect we are urging government to continue to make permanent the additional Universal Credit top up of £20 per week. For many families this has been an essential payment which they have come to rely on to meet their everyday needs. It’s not a lot of money and it would be heartless to take it away after people have come to rely on it. I think government also needs to think carefully about how it ends the furlough scheme and at least should be considering a phased approach.”

We are now at that point and it is unlikely that either the job retention scheme or Universal Credit will be extended. In fact we are in the perfect storm; as households are facing huge increases in fuel costs, rising inflation and a likely hike in interest rates. Many people will struggle to make ends meet and this is likely to cause more personal debt and hardship for the poorest in our society. We don’t as yet know the full impact on unemployment but it is likely that up to 30% of the 36,000 people on furlough will not have a job to go back to. While official figures show an increase in employment opportunities we need to ask if people have the right skills to undertake those jobs and what support will be in place to reskill and retrain.

What all this means for the Advice Sector is more demand on already overstretched services and advisors, who have been working tirelessly right throughout the pandemic and have had no real let up. That is why we need to see greater investment in local advice centres and longer-term funding settlements so that advice organisations can pay and reward staff appropriately, plan their services better with more discretion on how resources are deployed in the best interests of the communities they serve. We continue to lobby government and others to achieve this outcome.

In other news the Board have decided to put the Annual General Meeting on hold until early February while it continues to review the strategic and operational structures of Advice NI. A date for the AGM will be sent out soon and our Chair Mathilda Taulbutt will be circulating an update to membership outlining progress so far. We want to get the relationships between Advice NI as a regional umbrella organisation and local advice provider right and it’s important therefore that we take the time to do this properly. I would reiterate what I said in the last edition of Advice Matters:

“It’s important that we operate to the satisfaction of our members and that our activities and services reflect the needs which members have. As an organisation we are committed to that ethos and now more than ever it is vital that we all trust and support each other through the still uncertain times ahead.”

The Board have also signed off on our new Strategic plan and this will be available on our website shortly.

Finally we have had some recent Board resignations. Jim O’Callaghan from Housing Rights has retired. Jim was one of the longest serving board members and acted as Treasurer for many years and his dedication and commitment to Advice NI was boundless. Enjoy your retirement Jim!

Also Sinead McKinley who was also a longstanding Board member has moved on to another role outside the advice sector. Sinead was a tireless advocate for local advice services and she had a tremendous impact on developing local initiatives and in providing great insight for the Advice NI Board on the issues facing local communities.

Samantha Boswell has also resigned. While relatively new to the Board, Samantha added a fresh insight into our governance and organisational structures and was always willing to get engaged in helping the organisation to improve these.   

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge David Abrahams who for the last number of years has been an external advisor to the board. David was always a great supporter of Advice NI and helped us to improve our governance and risk and provided a lot of sound advice over the years.

They will be sorely missed by us all.

As ever we are here to support you so please do engage on any matter important to you or your organisation.

Bob Stronge
CEO, Advice NI