Brighton domestic abuse charity challenges council version of events in £5m contract row

Domestic abuse charity RISE has challenged comments made about its bid to continue running services in Brighton and Hove.

RISE was responding to a Brighton and Hove City Council briefing published on Friday (19 February).

It said that the domestic violence and abuse support services needed a “broader focus on an inclusive service” with help for heterosexual and gay male survivors.

The charity lost out to Victim Support and social housing provider Stonewater in commissioning process where support services were evaluated by officials from Brighton and Hove City Council and East Sussex County Council, as well as representatives of Sussex Police and the Office of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

In a statement, RISE said: “We began as a service for women and children 26 years ago then, 14 years ago, in close partnership with local community organisations, initiated what became one of the country’s first dedicated LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning) domestic abuse casework services.

“Four years ago, we co-piloted an innovative LGBTQ+ refuge. Both projects are still working effectively to safeguard LGBTQ+ people in Brighton and Hove today.

“We have built trusted connections between our specialist black and minoritised workers and local community organisations and have specialist staff dedicated to outreach work for disabled people and older victims of domestic abuse.

“Our health advocate contributed to national research on older people and domestic abuse and our child to adult violence programme has been featured at a national level.

“We explained to the council in our tender how we would extend this approach to include heterosexual males, through specialised lead staff building community and national links, providing casework and extending our community refuge provision in partnership with local housing providers and the council themselves.

“At the same time, women remain the group most subjected to and most severely impacted by domestic abuse.”

RISE cited research by Walby and Towers in 2018 that found that 91 per cent of domestic violence crime that caused injuries was against women.

And women also experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and were more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims.

The charity said that it challenged the council’s decision on Monday 18 January and heard back on Saturday 23 January that all four grounds had been discounted.

The council briefing said: “Following the initial notification of awards, there was a two-week standstill period to allow for appealing.

“While there was one request for information on the process for appealing the decisions, no further challenge was received within that time.

“A later notice of a potential challenge through judicial review was withdrawn.”

RISE said: “Progressing beyond this first stage challenge would cost a considerable amount in legal fees and, as such, we took a decision to make contact directly with the CEO of the council and subsequently the leader and deputy leader to attempt to resolve through conversation.”

Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty made a public commitment to meet RISE during a recent debate.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

The council’s briefing said: “The re-commissioning of the services began in 2018. In October 2018, the Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee agreed to establish a member working group.

“Unfortunately, due to key staff leaving the organisation, the member group was not arranged.

“The procurement was discussed at a number of committees and the strategy for the provision of the services in Brighton and Hove was agreed by the Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee in March 2019.”

Campaigners have called on the council to back RISE with a commitment to allocate a potential £600,000 government grant to the charity if the Domestic Violence Abuse Bill becomes law.

After losing the £5 million contract to provide refuge and other support services, RISE also said that it had to find new offices as it did not have enough to pay for its existing base.

RISE supporter and service user Nicola B, who started a petition with more than 22,000 signatures, is urging councillors to support RISE when they set the council’s budget on Thursday (25 February).

She called on people who support the campaign to upload photographs of their hands to social media, using the hashtags #RiseUp and #BringOurRefugeHome – and to follow the campaign’s progress on its website brightonriseup.wordpress.com.

The petition has enough supporters to trigger a debate at a meeting of the full council.

Nicola said: “It’s not too late to stop and think about this. I’ve had so many messages from local women who have benefited from RISE’s lifesaving services.

“We are really scared that handing our refuge services to outside organisations will leave gaps in a service that should be seamless.

“We believe there are serious questions to be asked about whether this process was done in line with the council’s own social value policies and their duty to consider the impact on groups protected by the Equality Act.

“Risking the stability and continuity of such lifesaving services in the middle of a pandemic was irresponsible. We are taking legal advice on the possibility of a judicial review of the decision.

“It’s not too late to stop and think about this. We want the council to call a halt, look again at where things went wrong in this chaotic tendering process and listen to the voices of survivors of abuse.”

  1. BAHTAG Reply

    These days there is,in principle, only 6 weeks from the date (of notification/publication) of a public-sector procurement award in which to file for Judicial Review.

    It looks like at least 3 of those weeks have already passed, so Rise will need to hurry!

    Or will Rise wimp-out from claiming their legal rights, so as not to be black-listed by our vicious and brutal City Council for years to come?

    Apparently they’ve already had some legal advice, as it sounds like it was Rise that served a ‘Notice before Claim’ on the Council?

    And then mysteriously withdrew it, when the Council told them it was hopeless (possibly accompanied by threats of retribution?).

    Most of those who’ve raised legal challenges against our City Council know that generally the reaction of the Council is to use extremely devious tactics to chase the claimant away – mostly ‘Deception by Omission’, but also by making statements of such dubious veracity that frequently the claimant lacks the time and/or the money with which to organise qualified experts to conduct a forensic investigation of the Council’s dubious assertions!

    At this point readers may be wondering if the public body,which B&H City Council is, can really ‘fight dirty’ in such an unethical manner?

    Well, it’s legal team certainly thinks it can, and regrettably it usually does – as can be read for free by viewing the history of Court judgements on the bailii.org website (no registration needed!).

    And a significant factor in this inexcusable conduct by a public seems to be that the full texts of court judgements involving the City Council never seem to get brought to any Council Committee for debate & consideration?

    Which obviously gives Council officers an unhelpful confidence that they have carte-blanche to do as they see fit, regardless of both ethical & financial considerations?

    The financial aspect being that of burning tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money in trying to defend the indefensible!

    And conciliation to work towards achieving a mutually-acceptable out-of-court settlement with a claimant?

    Sooo rare – it’s as though it goes against the machismo bullying culture of our Council officers to show sufficient humility with which to reach a win-win compromise with an aggrieved citizen – especially when those officers seem to have limitless taxpayers funds with which to burn-out a claimant!

    Sadly this tactic of deliberately complicating a citizen’s legitimate challenge, to run-up costs so the claimant has no further resources with which to continue their claim seems to be an inexcusable tactic that has become wide-spread in the the public sector since Legal Aid for civil cases was cut so severely that very few people are now eligible to receive such support!

    And talking of money: it should be possible for Rise to obtain an initial Advice from a specialised barrister for under £5k (+ VAT).

    Actually running a case could well cost a further £50k (and more if either side went to Appeal after the first judgement).

    But one would probably only proceed if the initial Advice from the barrister showed a good likelihood of winning the claim!

    And victory would bring a refund from the City
    Council for most of the costs incurred by Rise (with the possibilty of a further financial penalty being imposed on the Council by the Court.

    So if in law Rise does not a strong case perhaps it’s time to stop crying ‘Foul’?

    And as to actual money: well if just half of those signing the petition will each contribute £5 then that’s a £50k ‘Fighting Fund’ to begin with!

    And an aspect not yet appearing to have been mentioned is that of who owns the freehold or the long-lease of the building(s) used as a ‘Safe House’ for Rise clients?

    If owned by the City Council (or by another public body) was such a situation used by our Council to unfairly downgrade Rise’s bid? Just asking!

  2. Chris Reply

    People need to leave the Dickensonian concept of “charity” behind when dealing with these organisations. They are invariably not-for-profit companies who enjoy charitable tax status. They have directors and trustees, employees, pension funds, and fixed outgoings such as property leases.
    The council is legally compelled to follow a tendering process for all services it buys – and this includes services from all companies, including not-for-profits. In this instance the procurement process seems to have found a better fit with a different company. So be it, that is business, Better luck next time round.

    • Craig Reply

      If this was IT systems or maintenance etc… I would entirely agree with you. The reality is, this is a service for people who have suffered from extreme and potentially lethal domestic violence. RISE have an incredible reputation for delivering their service efficiently with care and compassion.
      In my experience, new companies coming in often have little understanding of what they are taking on and produce significant gaps in service. Gaps that could well cost lives.
      That is why this feels different for those who have used this service or know of it through our professional links

  3. Jean Reply

    So the member group, to provide oversight by elected councillors, wasn’t set up because key staff left the council. You would have thought the councillor chairing the committee would have had all the more reason to keep a grip on this sensitive procurement process then, especially given the ‘service redesign’ and the new arrangement, involving Brighton & Hove going in with East Sussex. The committee chairs get paid a special responsibility allowance to recognise the time they should spend staying on top of their brief.

  4. Chaz. Reply

    There is something very unseemly from this.
    Firstly a retendering process was held and RISE was not successful.
    End of.
    The selected company should be supported and ready to run.
    Sadly the councillors have decided they want RISE only at all costs.
    Then why bother with a retendering? let the Greens pay.
    When did we move to China?

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