Charities take action over ‘unfair’ loss of Lancashire County Council funding

Silhouette of a woman protecting herself from her partner. Picture posed by models.
Silhouette of a woman protecting herself from her partner. Picture posed by models.
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The loss of more than £600,000 in funding has led two domestic violence charities to take Lancashire County Council to court over what they say is a “patently unfair” process.

Preston Domestic Violence Services and Empowerment (formerly Lancaster and District Women’s Aid) put in for a tender for funding to deliver domestic abuse help to high and medium risk victims across Lancashire.

Safe house: Preston Women's Refuge features Audrey Wise House

Safe house: Preston Women's Refuge features Audrey Wise House

The funding would be used to run Independent Domestic Violence Advice (IDVA) services which offer a wide range of support measures to high risk victims and pay for domestic abuse support workers.

Preston Domestic Violence has been running its IDVA service since July 2006 and Empowerment has been running it in Lancaster since 2007.

The procurement process was for £400,000 of funding for Preston Domestic Violence Service and £275,000 for Empowerment. But the groups missed out on the cash in thew new tendering process and the funding has been awarded to other organisations to deliver the services.

The charities say they will now no longer be able to deliver these services and fear it will have a “major” impact on the rest of the services they offer.

They claim the procurement process was unfair and say the feedback they received was minimal and the reasons they have been given as to why don’t make sense.

Valerie Wise, Chief Executive of Preston Domestic Violence Services, said: “First of all they would not let us put in a challenge and it took them over a week to give us feedback.

“The feedback was minimal and showed the process was patently unfair.

“The only reasons they have given do not make sense, do not relate to the specification or to our bid.

“We feel we have no alternative but to challenge them in the High Court as a small charity with limited funds which should be used for our purpose rather than paying for legal services.

“Lancashire County Council has told us they will take things all the way through the courts – for small charities like us this feels like David and Goliath.

“We feel too strongly about this to just give up and walk away.”

Preston Domestic Violence Services and Empowerment have been supporting victims and campaigning against abuse for more than 20 and 25 years respectively.

Empowerment was one of the first organisations in the country to get the national ‘Leading Lights’ award for the quality of services, and they have recently been praised in nationally for their ground breaking Children’s service ‘The Den’.

Preston Domestic Violence Services obtained the “Leading Lights” award last year.

They are the only two organisations in Lancashire to have reached this exacting quality standard for domestic abuse services.

Last year the two charities supported over 5000 victims, helping them through the courts, to flee abusive relationships and to rebuild their confidence and family life.

Both services are open to women and men, and work closely with Children’s Centres, Police, the City Councils, social services, education and the NHS.

Chief Executive of Empowerment, Ellen Miller, added: “We are devastated by the County Council’s decision to cut our funding and bring in someone else.

“We don’t think the process has been at all fair.

“We’ve been working on short term contracts for the last couple of years and now they’ve come up with a fundamentally flawed procurement process, with terrible consequences for us”

“For example, the rules changed on what you could apply for after the closing date, and they’ve marked us down because we’ve put in a mix of staff – which is exactly what their specification said we should have.”

The charities also feel they have had no joy at all in trying to raise this informally.

A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “As this is a legal matter, we are unable to comment at the present time.”