Press release – Disabled people descend on Tower Hamlets Council

400 people have signed a petition calling on Tower Hamlets Council to rethink their decision to take a key contract providing support services for disabled and older people away from a respected local user-led organisation and instead give it to a national organisation. And today (2 September 2014, 18:00 – 19:15) over 20 of them will present that petition outside the Town Hall at a lobby.

Following a competitive tendering process the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, accepted Council officers’ recommendations to award the new contract to a national organisation called POhWER. But campaigners and other councillors have asked the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to look at the decision again. They are saying that this new organisation bid only 56% of the expected contract value and should have been disregarded as an abnormally low tender. They have concerns that the proposed new service won’t meet the access and language needs of local residents, especially as the organisation hasn’t even promised a base in the Borough.

The service in question provides training and support for disabled and older people, and families with disabled children, to set up and manage their own direct payments: organising their own social care and support needs instead of having directly-provided services. For the last eight years the service has been provided by Real, the user-led organisation of disabled people in Tower Hamlets. Real’s latest client feedback results show incredibly high levels of satisfaction with the service they’ve provided, and council officers have confirmed to Real that they had no concerns about Real’s delivery previously.

Mike Smith, CEO of Real, who is a wheelchair user himself said: “Three quarters of Real’s client-facing staff are also disabled and that’s why we get such great results – we have a genuine understanding of and empathy with the people we are supporting because we’ve been there ourselves”. He went on to say “I can understand that the Council could be tempted to make such a big saving, but this is a false economy. The average annual price of the other 7 bids was £326,500, so how can this one organisation deliver an equivalent service for only £199,206 without cutting corners. We now know that Real scored the most points for quality in the tendering exercise, so this is all down to a big national organisation bidding unfairly low.”

Dayne Martin, a client of the service, said: “The local support and advice means that I am able to continue to live my life as independently as possible, which will be made harder if a national organisation takes over that has no knowledge of my need or the area. Losing local services would isolate the local disability community, particularly those who cannot speak English as a first language.”

David S, one of the signatories to the petition, said “This is part of a worrying trend towards awarding contracts to large national organisations without regard to the quality of the service which users will receive or the impact these decisions have on the local organisation which loses out. Councils must strike a better balance between price on the one hand and, on the other, quality/track record/investment in local voluntary organisations which contribute much more to their communities than ‘outsiders’.”

Mike Smith also said he was worried for the future of his locally-employed disabled staff, saying “Staff at Real are concerned that they won’t keep their jobs if they transfer across to the new organisation. I’ve been informed that when POhWER took over a similar organisation’s service in the Midlands last year they transferred 9 people across and then made all but 3 redundant straight afterwards.”

Suleyman Nuur, an English- and Somali-speaking staff member said “Working at Real has meant that I am part of a diverse team who are working together towards a common goal, which is to support local disabled people. To work for an organisation that really understands the needs of disabled staff truly means a lot to me. Real has created a work environment of support, understanding and harmony and I am blessed to be part of it.”

Another staff member, Emma Preston-Dunlop, said “I can be truly myself working at Real; I’m disabled and LGBT and it’s simply a non-issue amongst my colleagues. The diversity of our team is our strength. Clients appreciate working with support staff who know what it’s like to live with impairments and disabilities, they appreciate the community languages we speak and the flexible hours we offer. In essence, we reflect the borough we serve and that’s how it should be – local services for local people.”

The papers being put to tonight’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting suggest that the Mayor wasn’t given full or sufficient information before being asked to make the original decision. They set out areas of local and national policy that may not have been followed fully, and also question some other parts of the commissioning process. Councillors have come up with alternative proposals for re-commissioning the service in a way that maximises benefit to the local community and does not unfairly disadvantage smaller, local organisations. They are calling upon the Mayor to reconsider, in the light of new information, to make sure that the service truly meets the needs of local disabled and older people.

Press contact details:

Mike Smith, Chief Executive Officer

(020) 7001 2172 or (07715) 760367

mike.smith@real.org.uk

Notes to editors:

  1. Real is a user-led organisation of disabled people and a registered charity, and has been around in one form or another for 20 years. Its membership comprises local disabled people, it currently employs 16 people and has 10 volunteers. 75% of its client-facing staff, and 100% of its board, are disabled. It provides a range of services to support local disabled people to live equally within society – see www.real.org.uk
  2. POhWER (http://www.pohwer.net/) is a national charity, based in Stevenage, which has a turnover of £10 million a year and unrestricted reserves of £850,000 (March 2013). It provides services in 59 local authorities around the country.
  3. The “Direct Payments Support Service” was re-commissioned last year at an estimated contract value of £354,000 per annum. Figures provided to Real under a Freedom of Information request show that POhWER’s bid of £199,206 was nearly £81,000 less than the next lowest bid (which itself was only 79% of the contract value) and the top five bids were all over £322,000, and all over 90% of the contract value.
  4. The online petition can be found on the 38° website here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/keepitlocal
  5. The Mayor’s original executive decision can be found here: http://moderngov.towerhamlets.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=434&MId=5437&Ver=4
  6. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s relevant paperwork for decision tonight in agenda item 5.2 is here: http://moderngov.towerhamlets.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=327&MId=5348&Ver=4
  7. Real’s most recent client feedback included:
    • 100% agreed their support worker was friendly and helpful, with 63% strongly agreeing
    • 94% of those with an opinion agreed or strongly agreed that their support worker took time to understand and responded appropriately to their life circumstances when being helped
    • 100% agreed or strongly agreed they were given helpful information and support on how to manage direct payments
    • 100% of those with an opinion agreed or strongly agreed they were able to make more informed decisions about how their care and support needs are met
    • 95% agreed or strongly agreed the support they be given fitted in with their pace of work and needs
    • 93% of those with an opinion agreed or strongly agreed they were also given information on other services or topics that helped them improve their independence, get out more, or be involved in their community.
    • An interesting relative measure was that 79% agreed or strongly agreed that Real understood them and their life more than other organisations
    • 100% agreed they would recommend other people to get help from Real, with 74% strongly agreeing