Budget advisory service wound up – but the money’s safe

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By Maureen Bishop

For nearly 25 years, the Ashburton Budget Advisory Service has helped thousands of people with budgeting advice and education.

Now that role will be filled by Presbyterian Support and the service has been wound up.

Alice McLaren has been involved from the start. A member of the former Ashburton Community Concern Council, she attended the public meeting called by that organisation in 1993, to gauge the level of support for the formation of an official, stand-alone budgeting service.

Before then, budgeting advice was given under the auspices of the council, with trained volunteers.

The public meeting was well attended and supported the formation of a new autonomous service.

The Ashburton Budget Advisory Service was registered as an incorporated society on September 24, 1993.

Mrs McLaren attended meetings first as a representative of Community Concern and was then elected on to the governing body, where she has remained ever since, finishing her time this month as secretary.

In the early days of the society the co-ordinators worked from their homes as the service did not have an office, the last president, Kay Begg said.

The co-ordinators and advisers in those early days were unpaid volunteers as the governance committee always has been, she said.

Office space was leased in 1997, with the co-ordinator working from it but advisers continuing to visit clients in their homes. Home visits continued for some time until health and safety concerns required clients to visit the office.

In October 2008, larger office space on the first floor of the Woodhams building in Cass Street was obtained and there the service operated until 2014.

Mrs Begg said initially the service received government funding under contracts to provide budgeting advice and education.

“This funding has always needed to be supplemented by grants from other organisations and funding bodies,” she said.

“The applications for both government, other charitable grants and the subsequent accountability reports grew to take up more and more time for each of the co-ordinator and the treasurer.”

The increasing workload led to the co-ordinator’s role becoming a full-time position with some of the advisers also moving to becoming paid employees to reflect the increasing professionalism and demands of their roles.

The changing requirements of running what had become a professional business with paid staff and a reasonable turnover eventually became too onerous for the volunteers on the governance committee.

Following investigations, a management contract was signed with Presbyterian Support Upper South Island and in December 2014, that organisation took over the management of the service. In 2016 the government changed the funding model from budgeting advice to providing financial capability and a lot of budgeting services closed when they no longer received government funding.

“Our foresight in setting up the management contract allowed Presbyterian Support to tender for funding under the new regime and to continue to provide budgeting services in the Mid Canterbury area,” Mrs Begg said.

” It did however, mean that the governance committee no longer had a useful role and the hard decision was made to wind up the Ashburton Budget Service Inc.

“Over the years, careful financial management and the need to build up reserves to counteract the service’s vulnerability in the event of not securing funding, has left a healthy bank balance.”

This has passed to Advance Ashburton, where a fund has been established to continue to assist with the provision of budgeting services in Mid Canterbury.