RISE row prompts fresh look at how sensitive contracts are awarded

Councillors want to have the final say on politically sensitive contracts after a political storm erupted when a Brighton charity was replaced as the provider of domestic abuse refuge and support services.

Campaigners were outraged when contracts previously held by RISE were awarded to housing association Stonewater and Victim Support in January last year.

More than 30,000 people signed a petition calling on Brighton and Hove City Council to help fund RISE after it lost the contract which was worth £5 million over seven years.

The council had worked with East Sussex County Council and Sussex Police on selecting the contractors – but this joint working has since ended.

And in future, services for victims of domestic abuse will be procured by Brighton and Hove City Council alone.

After the furore over RISE, councillors set up a cross-party working group to investigate what happened and review the council’s approach to “social value” and “community wealth building” when commissioning services.

The Procurement, Social Value and Community Wealth Building Member Working Group has since competed a report.

Its findings are due to be considered by a special meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Friday (29 July).

The working group’s five members, councillors Tom Druitt, Amanda Evans, Amanda Grimshaw, Steph Powell and Dee Simson, found “no evidence to suggest there were flaws in the procurement process” that cost RISE its contract.

But key people left the council during the process, staff were stretched during the coronavirus pandemic and councillors were not kept fully informed.

In addition, the procurement process was led by officials from East Sussex County Council who were not aware of some of the checks and balances built into the process in Brighton and Hove.

The report said that the “lack of member oversight” led to concern among service users and from RISE and caused “reputational damage to the council”.

Steps taken to prevent future failings include better logging of decisions by council committees, ensuring the council’s Procurement Advisory Board is updated on all procurements and developing a social value policy.

The working group also said that officials should always follow the council’s “social value framework”, have a named person responsible for the procurement process and refer all politically sensitive contracts to the Procurement Advisory Board.

The report said: “‘Politically sensitive’ should usually be interpreted as including services traditionally provided by the community and voluntary sector.”

The report also recommended carrying out “pre-market engagement” with services providers before starting the process for a contract to deliver services to the public.

Any services delivered to vulnerable people should also have an assessment of in-person support, such as asking for details of staff training, qualifications and accreditation.

The Policy and Resource Committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 2pm on Friday (29 July). The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.

  1. Sd Reply

    Value for money isn’t always ‘cheapest’.

    What our City Council did to RISE is a disgrace.

    • Anni.M Reply

      I agree. Rise ought to be reinstated. Domestic Violence victims need their local, specialist care.

  2. Tny Reply

    Sounds like the council did the right thing to me. I can see an obvious flaw in using such an organisation to provide the service required.

    It doesn’t operate in a gender neutral capacity, and going by its affiliation to “victim focus” may well be alienating young boys also trying to escape, as well as men and trans people. And women’s aid actively promotes anti male tropes doing much the same.

    It’s not just about value for money, it’s about accountability and equality.

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