A Brief History of the Formation of
Citizens Advice Rotherham
Having a problem with your washing machine? Disgruntled by the poor service in trying to get your gas boiler serviced? Tough!! Hire a lawyer if you feel so strongly about it otherwise you are very much on your own.
Such was the state of consumer rights before the 1964 Sale of Goods Act. There were a few Citizens Advice Bureaux, none in this area and the role of the local ‘Inspector of Weights and Measures’ was much more limited than today’s Trading Standards Officers. The shift towards more consumer power, both locally and nationally can be traced to the Moloney Report to Parliament in 1963.
The last important piece of consumer legislation had been in 1893 and it was obvious that some businesses were exploiting the lack of any real recourse for the consumer. For instance some clothing companies were describing products as ‘woollen’ simply because they were made from any spun material and you took your life in your hands with a meat pie that might contain at least a bit of meat, but what meat, was any one’s guess.
The Moloney Committee’s main proposal was that the Citizens Advice Bureau should be given the responsibility for providing consumers’ advice to the general public and access to a free legal service should it be required. However CAB was not the force it had been 25 years before. In 1938 as war seemed inevitable, the government of the day drew up plans for CABx to operate throughout Britain to provide essential advice in rationing, housing, and welfare entitlements. Four days after the outbreak of World War II in 1939 there were over 200 already in action and by 1942 there were 1074 bureau operating out of church halls, bomb shelters, shops and cafes. There were even mobile offices, converted vans and buses in rural areas staffed by a wide range of volunteers. Yet, at the end of the War central funding dried up as their work was deemed to be less of a priority and most were closed. However some did survive and there remained a committed and professional central office in London. In 1963 CAB responded to the Government in what is still such a positive characteristic of its philosophy – accepting the challenge and then turning its mind to recruiting a vast new swathe of full time, part time and volunteer workers and lobbying for the funds to provide a first class service.
Rotherham Borough Council also reacted with an urgency not always associated with that now defunct body. In September 1963, just after the Moloney Report had been accepted by Parliament, it met with a representative of the national CAB office for advice on how to set up a branch in the town, and agreed that it should appoint a full time organiser. On 9th December 1963 the first meeting took place at the Town Hall. The Mayor proposed at this meeting: “that a committee representative of the Rotherham
Corporation, Rotherham Rural District Council, and voluntary and other societies in the district be formed to establish a Citizens Advice Bureau.” The meeting was reported at length in the Rotherham Advertiser five days later. The estimated start up cost was £1300, funded by the Borough, but it was hoped that local employers and bodies would give generously to help maintain the bureau. This turned out to be wildly optimistic and soon the unfortunate appointed fund raiser was complaining that businesses in the area were showing no interest in the scheme. A steering committee meeting was held on 24th March 1964. The first annual general meeting was held in May 1965.
Rotherham CAB became a registered Charity on 11th June 1965 and an incorporated Company Limited by Guarantee on 24 August 2001.
The provisional accommodation was to be at the ‘new’ transport offices in the town with a view to moving to Percy Street, near what is now the Civic Theatre. Two years later they were still in the overcrowded temporary office, Mrs B Skelton had become the first ‘organiser’ on a salary of £800 and 6 volunteers had been trained to CAB specifications. The numbers of people approaching the bureau for help was rapidly increasing. The AGM for 1965 lists 1841 enquiries and the need to increase the opening hours. Although no details are available of the total breakdown of types of enquiries, mention is made of ‘housing’ as the dominant concern for clients and not so much ‘consumer affairs’ , the reason CABs were encouraged to be formed.
Many of Rotherham’s voluntary services were on the CAB board including Marriage Guidance, Soroptimists, St John’s Ambulance, the Chambers of Commerce and Trade, Rotary Club and representatives from the local villages which were under the West Riding Authority. Critics of under represented meetings can only dream of the sea of faces at these committee gatherings!
Their ideas are faithfully logged in the minutes – a suggestion that the phone number of the bureau be inserted in the phone directory; that services should be advertised on the screens of the Odeon and Essoldo and a veiled criticism that the bureau might be in danger of encroaching on the work of the Marriage Guidance Council.
What was Rotherham like in 1963 and what were the social issues that it faced?
Immigration was mentioned once in the early days of the CAB Committee but only as a query as to whether there were any such issues being brought to the bureau. No reply is recorded. There is very little mention in the Rotherham Advertiser – the proposed building of a mosque attracted very little comment and attention. Unemployment seemed not to be a burning issue either. The closure of a major steel firm, John Baker’s at Kilnhurst is met with regret, but the assurance that its workforce would easily be assimilated into other such works in the local area. In fact the local steel firms were paying generous Christmas bonuses in 1963, 55p for men, 21p for women (11 shillings and 4 shillings and tuppence respectively in old money). It did not warrant asking the government of the day (Douglas Hume’s short lived premiership) for additional funds. The local papers have pages of vacancies; a Coal Board clerk (male) was advertised at a wage of £13 60p a week and the Izal factory was in need of a whole shift of girls at a lesser wage. The issue of decent housing does reoccur. A modern semi cost £2,500 or a terraced house £450 but there was a chronic shortage of social housing which had never recovered from the War. Hence a new estate off Muglet Lane at Maltby, based on the revolutionary design of Cumbernauld New Town in Scotland, did make the headlines in the Rotherham Advertiser that year. The other serious problem highlighted by the local paper, was the need for future provision for the increasing number of elderly residents. Fifty years on, what little has changed!
Other interesting pieces of trivia from that month before Christmas in 1963 catch the eye. Champagne could be purchased from Rotherham market for £1 a bottle or Medoc wine was 45p for Rotherham’s connoisseur tipplers; Cluedo and Scrabble were the popular games, at £1 10p; ‘From Russia with Love’ was doing lively business and the up and coming author Len Deighton was to give a talk at the library on how to construct a thriller. Rotherham United’s season in Division 2 (which, for younger readers actually meant Division 2!) was going badly under Danny Williams. That week they lost 2-4 to Leyton Orient before the lowest crowd of the season of 6,732.
By 1968 Rotherham CAB was an undoubted success. The number of volunteers was now 14 but even more were needed. The local authority had promised £750 a year for the next 7 years to guarantee its future. This was to be the regular funding without which the bureau would collapse. The Trade Descriptions Act of that year increased enquiries even more, as CAB provided the necessary support for the issues that government legislation had created. Enquiries in Rotherham were proportionately higher than the rest of Yorkshire. Oh, and the premises were regarded as inadequate. “Plus ça Change”, as they say in South Yorkshire!
History researched by Greg Long former Trustee and volunteer adviser!