RISE response to BHCC briefing about contract verdict

Posted February, 2021

RISE recently announced the disappointing news that we have lost local council funding for some of our services as of the 1st of April 2021. We have been overwhelmed by support from the local community, and a petition started by one of our service users has reached over 21,000 signatures.

At a recent council budget meeting, council officials committed to look into the decision that resulted in the loss of the contract to deliver refuge and case work services, which is worth £5 million over seven years.

However, in a briefing of 19th February, councillors were told that the bids to run the domestic violence and abuse support services have been evaluated by officials from Brighton and Hove City Council as well as representatives of Sussex Police and the Office of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

The briefing included:

• “Equalities impact assessments (EIAs) identified the need for a broader focus on inclusive service provision that caters for the needs of people with all the protected characteristics. These highlighted the need for more support for both heterosexual and gay male survivors as well as the specific barriers to service experienced by the trans community.”

• “The tender specification and questions were drafted in line with the Brighton and Hove Social Value Framework and the Social Value Act. The social value of the services provided was embedded throughout the questions.”

• “After RISE and other bidders were told the result of the tender process, there was a two-week standstill but no organisations challenged the decision.”

RISE is disappointed and saddened by this response on a number of grounds.

Our bid carefully detailed how we will support all protected characteristics, with dedicated and specialist services. 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+ 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. Current research (Walby and Towers, 2018) finds that 91% of domestic violent crimes that cause injuries are against women. Women also typically experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse, with 83% of domestic abuse victims who are subjected to more than 10 violent incidents being women.

These figures mask further inequalities – Black and Minoritised women are less likely to see an arrest, prosecution and conviction for offences against them than their white counterparts, and disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This is why women-only space is needed. We are saddened that the council appears not to value this highly tailored, effective and proven approach, based on meeting the specific needs of different groups for specialised services, but instead wishes to commission a generic service.

We refute the position that the ‘social value of the services provided was embedded throughout the questions’ and do not feel the social value of our offer was duly considered in the tender scoring. The Brighton and Hove Council Social Value Framework states, “In considering the social value outcomes commissioners and procurement officers will need to work out the weight given to social value, which in Brighton & Hove will range from 10-30% and will be included within the broad assessment of ‘Quality.” No scored criteria were included for the Brighton and Hove Lots in this tender.

RISE also wants to assure our service users, staff and the local community that when we received the news about the outcome of the decision we lodged a challenge on 18th January in line with the guidance provided by the Council, in the timescale required, and observing the confidentiality required.

This challenge specified our dissatisfaction with the outcome, as we maintain that we are the best organisation to deliver these services, as well as with the procurement process and its procedural unfairness.

The Council replied on 23rd January discounting all four grounds of challenge, and stating that the standstill period had ended and they were entering into contract with the new providers. 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.

We wrote to the Leader and Deputy Leader of Brighton and Hove Council, Cllr MacCafferty and Cllr Clare, on 1st February, confirming that we had lodged a challenge and specifying the nature of each challenge. However, given our charitable status and the significant financial and capacity impact of mounting a legal challenge, we advised that the RISE Board and CEO had made the decision to withdraw from taking any further legal action. We emphasised that we were of the view that the points of challenge were still valid and we wished to discuss these.

For our original statement on the news that we are losing some government funding, please see the news item here >>