HART Council is to stabilise the finances of Fleet and Yateley Citizens Advice Bureaux by fixing their funding at a "substantial" level for three years.

In return the CAB will aim to be more efficient by producing a business plan incorporating the same Best Value standards for use of public money that apply to the council.

Hart has been its main backer for 20 years but has stated that recently the financial burden of the CAB has worried both the council and the bureaux.

The deal has delighted the CAB because it can start making long-term plans instead of living from year to year.

Fleet CAB manager Maria Hall said: "This is a very big step for us.

"We are delighted to have got this agreement and see it as recognition by Hart of the invaluable work that we do.

"It shows an appreciation of us, as a lot of people have not been so aware of us in the past.

"This has given us a lot of security. We have never been under as much pressure as the Camberley branch but over the last few years there has been no room for improvement due to inflation rises.

"We hope to secure more paid staff. At the moment 90% of the staff are volunteers and we need a core team.

"The money will help with behind the scenes things. Now we will be able to finance a tutor and an admin assistant.

"This has been so erratic before as money has dried up.

"We originally approached the council for help. We work closely with the revenue services at Hart and help take the pressure off them by helping people fill out forms, so it is a two-way thing.

"We will receive two payments a year as part of Hart's annual budget and as part of the agreement we will have to provide evidence of our service.

"The money is a substantial increase on last year.

"We have also become computerised and that has cost a lot of money.

"We managed to pay for this but it meant that we lost our reserve funds, so to update the service we need commitment and support.

"The communities do get a lot from us and on average it costs us £6 per enquiry.

"Plus, if we paid the volunteers the minimum wage, it would be in excess of £100,000 per annum, so we provide a remarkable service.

"The agreement is a real milestone for us and shows a huge appreciation of our work by Hart Council."

The signing of the agreement was marked by a special reception evening at the civic offices attended by councillors, CAB volunteers, management and paid workers.

Pictured from left are Chris James of Hart Council, Rosemary Feltham of Yateley CAB, Cllr Susan Band of Hart Council, Maria Hall and Heather Shearer of Fleet CAB.