The release of the Scottish Government’s much anticipated, and two months’ overdue, Debt Advice Route Map, is one of those moments, if you were driving your car, you would re-examine your Sat Nat and wonder why you ended up in a boggy field.
It wouldn’t have been so bad, if this Route Map had been published two years ago, like when it became clear local authority money advice services had suffered 45% cuts in the three pre-ceding years.
However, after two years of preparation, and five meetings of the Tackling Problem Debt Working Group, the only thing remarkable about the process and the Group’s final recommendations, was how unremarkable and uninspiring they were.
The reality is, despite the abundance of press coverage of this Route Map, the only thing certain at present is Scotland’s free, face-to-face money advice services will face more debilitating funding cuts over the next 12 months.
Minister, Jamie Hepburn, in this report, offers nothing that will prevent that.
The Tackling Problem Debt Working Group
The report described the meetings of the Tackling Problem Debt Working Group as:
“…lively, challenging discussions, revealing the complexity of the debt advice landscape, and its clear links with wider advice provision”.
This may as well read: the meetings were consumed by discussions and arguments by the participants about what was in it for them and there was a serious lack of any strategic vision or thought as to the future of free money advice in Scotland.
Hence why the resultant Route Map was two months’ late and hence why it has already had a lacklustre and disappointing reception by front line advice workers.
What is lacking from the Route Map?
Well other than having no strategy as to how to increase capacity in the free, face-to-face money advice sector, when demand is on the increase and 14.2% of the Scottish population are struggling with problem debt, it offers no extra funding for free debt advice services.
The Financial Conduct Authority Debt Advice Levy, which it deals with, was devolved in January 2019, and is not new funding, and is already funding the already under funded money advice sector in Scotland.
So, any suggestions this Route Map contains proposals that will see more Scots offered more face-to-face, free debt advice, is nonsense.
In addition, the proposal commits to funding National Debt Helplines that are already funded by the banks or under-utilised and begs the the question why, when funding for front-line, face-to-face services are so underfunded, the Scottish Government are proposing to use public funds to fund services already self-funded through arrangements they have with the banks (Where Has the Scottish Debt Advice Levy Gone?)
The problem is the Tackling Problem Debt Working Group failed to contribute meaningfully to the debate on what is the future of free money advice in Scotland.
It had no new ideas and the debate, judging from the minutes and papers that came out the meetings were poor, and much of its reasoning was based on the flawed and now discredited Peter Wyman Report into the Funding of Free Debt Advice in the UK.
This Debt Advice Route Map is not one of those golden moments in Money Advice in Scotland, such as the one that followed the Striking the Balance Report produced in the early years of the Scottish Parliament that led to a significant increase in funding for free money advice; or even that which followed on from the Debt Action Forum in the aftermath of the Credit Crunch.
No this is more a speed bump on the road that is leading to the decline of free, face-to-face money advice services in Scotland.
With Brexit now approaching fast on the horizon, the truth is the Scottish Government have no strategy, no Road Map, and they don’t even have control of the brakes on the run-away car crash that is awaiting those Scots who will soon be seeking help with problem debts.