Q330 Jesse Norman: Thank you for coming in, Ms Guy. I want to ask you a very simple question. What is the point of the Money Advice Service? It costs £40 million a year and, as far as I can see, it is a quango in search of a role.
Gillian Guy: I am sure that the Sub-Committee will form a view for itself, but what I can say is that the Money Advice Service is clearly part of this landscape on money advice and debt advice. Our concern is to make sure that that kind of money gets as much to front-line service as is possible and demonstrates that it is adding value to that landscape. The difficulty that we have in the value that it currently adds is on its focus. From our point of view, it is perhaps undertaking the wrong job with the wrong focus. With a bit of redirection towards its strategic and statutory objectives, but also probably with firmer and better governance, we might see better value coming from that investment.
Gillian Guy: We have five people in the top team.
Jesse Norman: Five?
Gillian Guy: Yes; including me.
Q332 Jesse Norman: What do you make of an organisation that has staff and associated costs of nearly £14 million a year and a CEO’s office with 7.1 people in it?
Gillian Guy: That would be nice. Seriously, it is part of our argument about the resources that come in, which are not insignificant—we are talking about over £80 million. In Citizens Advice, for less than £20 million, you buy a debt advice service, at the moment, which covers a large proportion of our bureaux and buys the full-time equivalent of 320 staff and 500 people giving money advice to hundreds of thousands of people every year. In our terms, we look at what we could do with that resource and very clearly say that the main problem in this arena at the moment is that demand outstrips the capacity to give the advice. We don’t have a problem with getting demand. We would not focus resources on overheads, which we like to keep at a minimum, and certainly we look at the executive and non-executive team of the Money Advice Service and see that it costs about £1 million a year. That is quite luxurious, in our terms. Also, we would not stray into marketing and creating a separate and new brand when what we need is capacity to deal with all the people—who will be growing year on year—needing financial capability, money advice and debt advice.
Q333 Jesse Norman: MAS has a communication and service delivery team of 73 people and a strategy innovation team of 33 people. Do you see any of these people? Are they ever helpful to you? Do they do anything that helps the CAB in the delivery of advice to people who need it?
Gillian Guy: I think the fundamental issue here is the focus of the Money Advice Service that leads it to have those teams. That is about building a separate and new brand, and marketing financial capability, particularly. Our argument, which is quite clear to the Money Advice Service, is that that is not the right focus. There are plenty of things that can be done in this area that an organisation that does not deliver could do. It could make the delivery arms more effective and it could make them work together better. It could have common case management systems. It could have standards and validation of those standards. It could have verification of the people who give the advice. We could have a common portal so that members of the public would not have to go from one place to another in giving their information, but could deal with creditors and advisors all in one place and at one time. There is plenty that could be done.
Q334 Jesse Norman: In Hereford we have an excellent CAB. We used to have a CAB in Ross-on-Wye, which was built on a local organisation set up by local people offering good-quality local advice. That has now been centralised. If you had more money because the MAS was disbanded or its income differently allocated, how quickly would you be able to feed that through to people on the ground who need it, and what is the overhead cost that would you apply to the money you receive?
Gillian Guy: We look to keep our overhead costs as low as possible. The more we expand our business, the less the percentage is of those overhead costs because you do not have to replicate.
Q335 Jesse Norman: What are they and what would they be if you had—
Gillian Guy: They would be under 10%.
Q336 Jesse Norman: Under 10%. The staff cost of the MAS at the moment is 30% and, as far as I can see, it does not deliver any debt advice.
Gillian Guy: The other aspect from the Citizens Advice point of view is that we do not just give face-to-face advice. We give advice over the telephone, which is where we believe there is some duplication going on. I would point out that this year it looks like about 80% of the phone referrals to the Money Advice Service are going to come from Citizens Advice, because we are lacking capacity to deal with them.
Q337 Jesse Norman: Was that 80%?
Gillian Guy: About 80%.
Q338 Jesse Norman: Would you be able to move quickly on any new money allocated?
Gillian Guy: We always move quickly on that.