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Community / Worry over advocacy service being delivered remotely from England

But new provider The Advocacy People said it is confident it can offer an ‘effective and positive’ service remotely

ADVOCACY services for people in Shetland will now be delivered remotely from the other end of the UK following a change in local provision.

Former Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick said she was “astounded” by that a local service has been swapped for an “English phone line number”.

Advocacy Shetland, which was based in Lerwick’s Market House, is no longer providing the service.

It held an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) last week to discuss the dissolution of the service, with all trustees retiring. There has also been issues with recruiting trustees.

Chair Rosemary Inkster said this week she had nothing more to add than what has previously been reported, having retired from Advocacy Shetland at the meeting.

She previously said clients would be informed of the change of service.

Shetland Islands Council, which has a statuary obligation to provide an independent advocacy service, said it was unable to comment further. The contract it held with Advocacy Shetland came to a finish at the end of September.

The new service for Shetland is being provided by The Advocacy People, an independent charity based in Hastings.

It said its advocates are based in different locations across the south of England.

Advocacy is about giving a person support to have their voice heard. The service is particularly important for vulnerable people, dealing with a range of issues including questions about care.

The Advocacy People’s operations director Chris Noble told Shetland News that its team will be on hand to support people in the isles remotely, “and this might be by video call, by telephone, by email, or by letter: we’ll respond to each individual person and their needs”.

“Our experience supporting people through the pandemic has shown us that we are able to provide a personal, empathetic, and really effective service while working remotely,” he continued, adding that the charity has nearly 30 years of experience.

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Hawick was at the Advocacy Shetland EGM last week and she said she would have put herself forward to become a trustee, but was told it was too late.

She said she was “worried how vulnerable individuals, who may not be able to write an email or work a phone, are going to manage to contact that organisation”.

“I fear this will only put an even bigger emphasis on the struggling voluntary services in Shetland and the NHS with people’s mental health breaking down through no fault of their own and the lack of thought gone into this decision,” Hawick added.

“Is Shetland getting the services they need the most, compared to what other services are receiving with much bigger pay outs for what many may view as non-critical?”

However, a spokesperson for the Advocacy People said: “Our staff have a good deal of experience in supporting people remotely, and we’re confident that we can provide effective and positive advocacy services to those in Shetland who are referred to us.”

Advocacy Shetland had been taking on around 100 new cases every year, and it had a mix of paid and voluntary staff.

Advocacy is a legal requirement in some situations – such as when a person is deemed to lack capacity to make decisions for themselves and has no next of kin or friend to speak on their behalf.

Shetland Islands Council provided funding to Advocacy Shetland in 2020/21 of nearly £50,000 through a service level agreement, while Shetland Charitable Trust also previously awarded £35,000.

But in an annual return for that financial year the organisation conceded its financial situation was “critical”.

More details on the new independent service can be found here. They can be contacted via 0330 440 9000 or info@theadvocacypeople.org.uk.

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