County sight services moved to Midlands

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A Morpeth-based charity believes it has been treated unfairly after it lost two services to a provider in the Midlands.

And it has now challenged Northumberland County Council to address its concerns so it can avoid spending a significant amount of its funds on legal costs.

The Rehabilitation and Sight on Site support services for more than 5,300 blind and partially sighted people have been successfully delivered by the Northumberland County Blind Association (NCBA) on behalf of the authority for many years.

They came up for tender again this summer and it was revealed last week that the contract has been awarded to the Birmingham Institute For The Deaf (BID Services).

The association is not criticising BID Services, but it is scathing of the county council for the way it handled the situation and the ‘deeply flawed’ process.

NCBA chairman Ken Brown said: “The numerous and significant delays up to and during the procurement process were unreasonable, not in the interests of service users or staff, and have come at a significant cost to a small charity.

“We feel that elements of the procurement process were prejudicial against the organisation. The county council does not have any internal process by which its decision can be challenged.

“In such circumstances, we and any other small organisations that have genuine reasons for concern over a contract award are forced to commission legal advice and ultimately judicial review. This potentially has a severe financial impact upon resources that should otherwise fund charitable and voluntary services to vulnerable clients.

“As yet, the county council has not responded to our long list of unanswered questions about the process.

“We will work hard to ensure that the jobs of the current specialist staff employed by NCBA in delivering this contract are protected.

“We will engage with the new provider with regard to the transfer of staff in the expectation of continued delivery of a service of excellence.”

The team for the Rehabilitation service carries out registration visits, specialist assessments and training in daily living skills, including communication techniques such as Braille, kitchen skills, mobility and orientation.

The Sight on Site floating advice and support service enables vision impaired people to continue to live independently.

It offers help with correspondence, housing-related support (maintenance), access to other services, benefits advice and safety and security of the home.

BID Services is set to take them on from December 1.

Susan Dungworth, the county council’s policy board member for adult care and public health, said: “As a council, we always encourage and support local organisations to be able to offer services in Northumberland.

“While NCBA has provided assistance to blind and visually-impaired people for a number of years, our key priority has always been and will always be to ensure we commission the best possible services for those residents in need.

“We can confirm the tender was awarded primarily on quality rather than price and we have asked the new provider find a base in the county.

“We have reached out to NCBA throughout this process in an attempt to continue to work with them, to let them know how they can challenge the formal procurement process we ran should they wish and to enable a smooth transition to the new provider to continue support to service users.

“We understand the concerns their announcement now may have raised and would like to reassure service users and their families there will be no interruption of services provided and to get in touch with the council if they have any worries.”