Staff at a Hull charity have been left on the brink of redundancy this week as opposition councillors challenge the local authority’s decision to award a support contract to a rival bidder.
Three Liberal Democrat councillors ‘called in’ the Labour council’s decision to award the contract to provide support to unpaid carers to City Healthcare Partnership Hull, a social enterprise and community interest company, rather than Carers’ Centre Hull, which has provided the services for the last 13 years.
According to media reports Carers’ Centre Hull has now had its contract extended for a further two months while the opposition challenge is considered. It had already been extended once, from 30 March until 30 June, to allow the tendering process to take place.
But the ten staff at the charity were issued with redundancy notices with an expiry date of 30 June when the tendering process started, with the hope that they could be reversed upon winning the contract. These are still in place as the charity has still "had no formal notification from Hull City Council or NHS Hull that the two-month extension is in place, only second-hand reports", advised Greg Harman, Carers’ Centre Hull manager.
Harman added that although the contract announcement was due to be made this week, the charity was not contacted officially and “we gleaned that there had been a decision made to award the contract elsewhere”.
LibDem councillor Abigail Bell said: “I’m still astonished that the Labour-run Council chose Carers’ Week to announce funding had been slashed for the centre.
“If we hadn’t called in this decision, it would have come into effect on Wednesday and there would have been nothing anyone could have done about it. I’m pleased we got there in time.”
A meeting will now take place on 2 July and Bell hopes that “we can persuade councillors to think again”.
Harman said that while he accepts the need for “competitive tendering” the organisation is “concerned about the speed and rate at which things are happening”.
He told civilsociety.co.uk that he was concerned about there not being enough time to transfer services to a new organisation as well as the wellbeing of staff and volunteers at the centre.
“We feel that we are the best-placed organisation to provide the service – we have been doing so successfully for 13 years and have exceeded our targets,” he added.
In a joint statement Hull City Council and the NHS Hull Clinical Commissioning Group said: "The decision to award the contract to the preferred bidder has been through the standard rigorous procedures of Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet.
"To ensure carers receive continuation of service the current provider’s contract has been extended by a number of months until the new provider’s support is in place."
A spokeswoman for City Healthcare Partnership Hull said the social enterprise would not comment at this time.
Big Lottery Fund project in ‘jeopardy’
Last year the Carers’ Centre was awarded a grant of more than £400,000 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities Fund, to provide outreach services for five years.
Without the council contract to fund its core services, this lottery grant is now also in jeopardy, according to Harman.
He said that BIG had been informed of the situation and was awaiting the outcome of the next meeting before any decisions are taken.