Councillors shared their shock and concern when asked why domestic violence charity RISE had lost its contract to provide support for victims in Brighton and Hove.
The charity was recently told that it had not won contracts worth £5 million over seven years as part of the £13 million tender.
The new contracts start from April and RISE currently provides the services for about £1.4 million a year.
A Brighton and Hove City Council meeting was told that East Sussex County Council had led the procurement process for the Portal service for victims which RISE had helped develop.
It provided refuges and direct support for victims of domestic abuse and violence – and it co-ordinated its work with hospitals and Sussex Police.
Questions were asked about the situation as Labour councillor Daniel Yates brokered a cross-party deal to provide a degree of financial help to support “transformation” for community and voluntary sector organisations like RISE.
Anusree Biswas Sasidharan, an invited member of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, raised the matter.
Dr Biswas Sasidharan said that she was horrified that the “decommissioning” had taken place during the pandemic when public services were focused on the covid-19 crisis.
She told the virtual meeting yesterday (Thursday 11 February): “Making such a challenging decision, which feels like a fracturing and destabilising of domestic abuse services … this is a really deep concern.
“Why an organisation such as RISE that is led by women for women should be cast aside without due regard to their great social value has left me flabbergasted.”
She praised the three political groups for agreeing to create a Community and Voluntary Sector Transformation Fund to support organisations away from paid commissioned work from councils and towards other funding opportunities.
The money will be taken from senior management staffing budgets, which look like being reduced by £95,000.
Councillors also shared their concerns and asked whether the process had been in line with the council’s “social value” policies.
Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said that he was trying to organise a meeting with RISE to discuss the decision, adding that he shared the charity’s disappointment.
But, he said, councillors could not overturn an independent procurement decision.
Fellow Green councillor Tom Druitt said that he had spoken to the council’s head of procurement to understand how the situation had happened.
He said that the council needed to ensure future procurement followed Brighton and Hove’s social value and community wealth building principles.
Councillor Druitt said: “It’s much better for Brighton and Hove City Council to run our own procurement and that is something we have committed to do.
“This situation won’t be able to happen again because we will run our own procurement with our own values and our own emphasis that we place on social value and the third sector and its role in the community.”
Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that he was reassured by what Councillor Druitt had said as he raised the RISE issue with him a few weeks ago.
Councillor Yates said that it was pointless to have guidance on procurement if it was ignored when the council worked with other organisations.
He said: “The social value requirements are what we expect to see. I hope to see in future we don’t get such perverse decisions coming out from our procurements.”
The council’s executive director for housing, neighbourhoods and communities Rachel Sharpe said that the process had followed all the legal requirements.
She said: “We have to look objectively at contract bids when they come in. We have to judge them on their merits against the agreed specification.
“We absolutely understand the difficulties and disappointments for RISE. The organisation does continue to provide various services in the city and is also commissioned for services by the CCG (clinical commissioning group) locally.”
Ms Sharpe said that RISE was working with the council to ensure staff and clients’ interests were supported during the handover process.
RISE has written to its supporters saying that it is a short-term setback but the charity will build new services for women and families affected by domestic violence in Brighton and Hove.
The contract runs until 2025 and is funded by the two councils – East Sussex and Brighton and Hove – and the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.