Chairman’s Report 2021
It is a pleasure to have been asked to give a report providing a brief overview of the activities of the Centre since our last General Meeting.
Life has been very different for most of us during the last year, largely due to the effects of the pandemic which has swept the world. Coronavirus continues to have a profound effect on the work of Bute Advice Centre and has led to a vast upsurge in the numbers of vulnerable families requiring our help. The level of support provided can to some degree be seen in the level of client gain that has grown year on year. Looking back from October 2020 to Sept 2021 inclusive, the client gain was £1,795,174. On any average year the team would be delighted to reach the target of £1million, our client gain in recent years reflects the tremendous need in the communities across Argyll and Bute. Our dedicated team are committed to responding to that need.
A warm welcome is given to Elizabeth Officer as she recently joined the team as a Welfare Rights Officer and is presently undertaking her induction training. Earlier in the year we were delighted to have Kim Parry join us, as Administrator when Margaret Marshall retired. Karen Young also left BAC this year, we thank both Margaret and Karen for their hard work and diligence and wish them well in their new endeavours. Our thanks goes to James Arthur, for his commitment during his period as a Trustee and we wish him well as he relocates to be nearer family. In addition, a special thanks goes to Alma Mickaill for coming back out of retirement and helping to support the Syrian Resettlement Programme over the last couple of months while BAC recruited for a new member of the team.
Given our caution in respect of the finance required to operate the Advice Centre, it would have been very tempting to furlough the staff during the lockdown period which has operated nationally. This would have saved us substantial running costs, but the Trustees did not adopt this course of action – our services were needed by some of the most vulnerable sections of our community and we are proud of the success which our staff have achieved during that period. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been in the positive position of not having any staff need to take time off to deal with the effects of Covid, this has helped maintain the level of productivity.
It seems likely that the economic situation nationally will lead to another large upsurge in families and individuals needing the help provided by Bute Advice Centre, particularly in relation to the ending of the furlough scheme in September 2021 and the removal of the £20 per week top up for those on the lowest incomes.
During the period of lockdown, the Trustees took the decision to ask our staff to work from home, as far as was possible. Recently as we have taken on new staff, Julie has returned to the office to deliver the induction training, however a blended version of working from home and office continues to be the preferred approach and one that the organisation intends to continue beyond the pandemic. The staff have adapted perfectly to this change and the high performance levels of the organisation are a fitting tribute to them. The Manager, Julie Semple, maintains daily briefings with all staff and ensures a smooth operational efficiency. As Chairman, my impression is that we have a happy, close-knit team who are dedicated to the work of Bute Advice Centre.
Particular thanks must go to Gloria Fear, our Secretary, for her diligence in dealing with the transfer from being a charity to a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation (SCIO). Thanks must also go to Dougie Lyle for all his support and efforts in trying to locate new premises for BAC, as our present accommodation is up for sale. Indeed, thanks go to all our committee members, Ada Fisher, Caroline MacPhee, Andy Gilmour and John Weir for their continued commitment and dedication, throughout this very challenging period.
A large proportion of staff time is taken up guiding clients and assisting them through the complexities of the Benefits system. Our aim is to ensure that clients receive their full entitlement of State support. We also endeavour to help clients become financially independent, by assisting them to learn domestic budgeting skills, in order that they can better manage what may be a very limited family income.
One of the ongoing concerns for Bute Advice Centre relates to operating costs. I am delighted to advise that the Centre is currently in a financially stable position. Our Manager, Julie Semple, has excellent fundraising skills and has negotiated contracts which help us to cover our operating costs and also to maintain reserves, which are important from the viewpoint of an orderly wind down, should the Centre ever have to cease operation. These contracts are not gifts however, they have very demanding targets which we fulfil and even exceed. It is the case however, that we must never be complacent about running costs and Julie continues to maintain a watching brief on opportunities for finance.
The Centre continues to work closely with various partners, including Argyll and Bute Council, ACHA and AliEnergy. We continue to support the Refugee Resettlement Programme, administered by the Council and which is vitally important in assisting these families to adjust to life in the United Kingdom.
It is my privilege to serve as the Chairman of Bute Advice Centre and I welcome this opportunity to thank the staff, my fellow Trustees and the funders, all of whom help to ensure that the organisation remains at the heart of this community. In addition, my gratitude is due to the numerous other supporters who, in various ways, assist the development and successful progression of Bute Advice Centre.
Our primary goal remains to serve this community – most especially, the weak, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
Thank you for your consideration and your support.
Gordon W.M. Sutherland
Bute Advice Centre