Questions over award of contracts for domestic violence and abuse services

Questions arising after a domestic abuse charity in Brighton missed out on two key contracts look likely to be explored by a cross-party working group of councillors.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 9:34 am
Charity RISE has recently lost out on two contracts to help victims of domestic violence and abuse in Brighton and Hove

The £5 million contracts came up at a council meeting on Tuesday (March 9) and the matter is due to be discussed again today Thursday (March 11) and a week later.

RISE lost the key contract for community domestic violence and abuse services to Victim Support while housing association Stonewater will take over running the council-funded refuge service from next month.

Senior councillors are to be asked to set up a cross-party working group to “review the council’s policy and practice regarding social value and community wealth building” when commissioning services.

But officials said that the contracts were awarded after a fair and legal process during which “social value” as well as financial costs were taken into account.

The former Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council Daniel Yates had referred the issue to the council’s Audit and Standards Committee.

Councillor Yates chairs the committee and opened the virtual meeting by telling members that the immediate review of what happened would be handed to others.

He said: “I am aware that there has been a considerable level of critical coverage in the press and social media regarding the commissioning of the domestic violence and abuse services.

“Many aspects of the concerns raised relate to the decision-making process as well as the fact that the decision of the then Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee to set up a working group to oversee the process was not implemented.

“RISE has provided services in the area for many years. The decision to recommission the service was taken by a committee but issues have been raised about the extent to which social value was taken into account in the process.

“I do not wish to question the legality of the process or the competence of the new providers which I am sure will do their best to provide an excellent service.

“However, some of the concerns raised do touch on governance and process which could be of interest to the Audit and Standards Committee.

“There are also issues about the future of RISE as a local provider which I’m sure is of interest and concern to many in the city.

“I did seriously consider whether this should be something that the Audit and Standards Committee should look at.

“However, on balance, this is looking primarily at frontline service delivery and implementation of policies rather than issues of propriety or irregularity.

“I also understand that there will be reports going to the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee this Thursday – and a petition will be delivered to the next Policy and Resources Committee alongside a report.

“I understand that there are proposals to set up a working group to review the council’s approach.

“Given all these, I do not think it would be necessary or proportionate to commission yet another workstream.

“But we will keep this under review and, should any issues come up that are of legitimate interest to this committee, we can, of course, look at them.”

When the council set its budget last month, Councillor Yates brokered a cross-party deal that could offer some support to RISE and organisations in a similar situation.

The same deal included extra funding to help tackle the increasing number of victims of domestic violence and abuse.

And if the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law as expected, the council is likely to be allocated just over £600,000 which campaigners say should support the services still offered by RISE.

The council’s cross-party review proposal is due to be discussed at the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee today (March 11). The meeting is scheduled to start at 4pm and should be webcast on the council website.

A decision on the proposal is due to be made by the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday March 18. Again, the meeting is scheduled to start at 4pm and should be webcast on the council website.

Sarah Booker-Lewis , Local Democracy Reporting Service