Saturday 28 September 2019

New service provider contract for Brent's most vulnerable not subject to Scrutiny

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the travails of Brent Advocacy Concerns which is going to have to close at the end of November due to the charity being unable to meet the new high rent demanded for its small premises in Willesden. The charity has no paid workers but is still helping people with disabilities. Just this week it is providing advocacy for a parent of two autistic children as well as a range of other age groups.

Now it looks as if other local charities may also be facing closure, this time due to an unscrutinised decision by Brent Council.

The Council is requesting exemption from Scrutiny of a decision to award the 'Gateway to Support Services' contract to Age UK, Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon. This would five different services, not all of which are known to be an area of expertise for the organisation:
  • Care Act Advocacy
  • Mental Health Act Advocacy
  • Mental Capacity Act Advocacy
  • Carers Services
  • Social Isolation Prevention Services
These are services for some of the most vulnerable Brent residents and it is surely detrimental to their interests that the decision and contract have not been subject to rigorous scrutiny. 

The reason for the failure to add the procurement to the Council's Forward Plan is attributed to 'officer oversight.'

The decision will mean that a number of Brent organisations that were not successful in the procurement process will lose what was previously funding from the Council and if, like Brent Advocacy Concerns, are unable to find alternative funding, will have to close.

Any Scrutiny would need to look at what that would mean for residents currently receiving services from those organisation and consider whether a large contract, embracing five areas, would have the risk of losing some specialist skills and expertise of value to the community.

Large, multiple area contracts, aimed at saving the Council money, are not always as responsive as small organisations. The Veolia contract covering street cleaning, waste collection, recycling, parks maintenance and more has not been an unmitigated success!

Extract from the Exemption Notice to Cllr Ketan Sheth, chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee

To award the Gateway to Support Services contract to Age UK Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon. Gateway includes five different services; Care Act Advocacy, Mental Health Act Advocacy, Mental Capacity Act Advocacy, Carers Services and Social Isolation Prevention Services. 

Why it was not possible to provide the required notice (i.e. why the decision or exemption was not anticipated) 

The Gateway procurement originally took place in March / April 2019. At that time it was decided not to proceed and award a contract. When the procurement was started again in July 2019, it was not added to the council’s Forward Plan. This was due to officer oversight. Once this was realised the decision was added to the Forward Plan. This was done on 16th
September. The earliest the decision could be implemented if we followed the Forward Plan timetable would be 24th October. The Gateway contract is due to go-live on 2nd December. 

The Gateway procurement was completed in mid-August, but award of the contract delayed because the due diligence process took longer than planned. The procurement of the service has been reviewed by Internal Audit following a complaint received by the council. This has resulted in a shorter than planned implementation and hand over period. An exemption is sought so that the implementation period is not reduced further. 

§ Why it is impractical to defer the decision to a later date to allow the appropriate notice to be provided. 

This contract provides a number of advocacy services to vulnerable people in Brent as well as support for carers. These services are currently delivered via multiple contracts which will end on 1st December 2019. The nature of the services and the complexity of ensuring a smooth handover between a number of organisations means that it is important to maximise the period of time available for implementation prior to the current contracts expiring. 

TUPE will apply to staff involved in delivering services currently. In order to make sure staff transfers are managed properly, the more time available to the organisations involved to arrange this the better. There are also implications for the organisations who have not been successful in this procurement. For some, the council has been their main funder for many years. These organisations will need time to either secure additional funding from other sources, review their operations to manage without council funding, or close their business. Again, having the time to properly manage this would be to their benefit.


John Healy said...

Age UK Brent does not currently offer advocacy but Harrow does but only if you are over 60. After Thursday (3/10/19) they should remove the age restriction, as their new advocacy service will be for all age groups.

In November 2019, the council will re-procure their 'homecare services" by introducing a 'Patch system' spread into 13 areas within Brent. This will affect several hundreds of residents, who are currently receiving services, or for those who will wish to use the services in the future.

Unknown said...

Many issues that disabled people in Brent face and for which they are seeking an advocate are not covered by these very narrow and specific services. They are only funding statutory advocacy. There is no housing advocacy, support to make complaints, support for disabled parents challenging services...I could go on. The gathering of and explaining information and supporting people to make choices is the cornerstone of real advocacy. I cannot think of one of the disabled people that are contacting BAC that would be helped by this service as it is presented. Disabled people in Brent deserve a proper service that meets their needs.