Rise were well known in the city for their campaigning and fundraising and the decision to award the contract to a national organisation, Stonewater, together with Victim Support, caused waves of protest throughout the city, with more than 30,000 residents, community leaders and survivors signing an online petition.
It was felt that the decision by Brighton & Hove Council did not take account of the social value a local charity provides. Campaigner Nicola Benge points out that the new services are run by organisations with headquarters in the North of England and “they have no relevance to our city”.
There are concerns about flats left without hot water and heating for eight days over winter, and the lack of specialist support for mothers and children, principally in the form of a helpline offering legal advice, therapy and support. Furthermore, a domestic abuse advocacy post based at the Royal Sussex hospital remains vacant despite available funding.
Campaigner Ali Ceesay, who is in touch with women in the refuge, has reported to the working group that conditions are bad. There is a lack of specialist support and another concern is that there is no on-site manager and no help for key health issues. Benge would like to see the contracts re-tendered and blamed commissioning processes which prioritise cost over value.
Council promises action
A cross-party working group of councillors has looked into the procurement process and found problems with the new service providers. And a council committee has pledged a thorough investigation of the procurement process.
A new stakeholder scrutiny panel, the Lived Experience Board, has been set up and the council has promised to publish a copy of the equality impact assessment which decides if the services provided are fair and equal. The working group will report back to councillors next month.
More from Sussex Bylines
However, Nicola Benge reflects the frustration of the campaigners when she points out that the September meeting will mark 18 months since the “services were recklessly thrown into chaos and disarray” and the failures of the new providers have still not been addressed. Meanwhile, Brighton RiseUp! was not invited to the first meeting of the Lived Experience Board, and an Equality Impact Assessment has not been forthcoming.
It is also claimed that the testimony of campaigners and survivors is not being taken seriously and Benge is not convinced that “there will be positive, tangible outcomes for survivors in our city.”
While survivors and campaigners remain concerned about the progress and safety of the women, the fight to bring the refuge back into the control of the local community is not going away.
In a recent development, domestic abuse campaigners have welcomed Brighton and Hove City Council’s pledge to improve the way that it handles sensitive contracts in future but strongly disagreed with the conclusion in their report (Agenda Item 34) that there was “no evidence to suggest that there were any flaws in the procurement process or that decisions for the two contracts were wrong”. RiseUp! campaigners pointed out that the findings were damning and reveal a “chaotic process where suppliers and services users were not adequately consulted, key staff members weren’t replaced and local oversight was absent”. The RiseUp! campaign group said that it did not believe that domestic abuse charity RISE would have lost key contracts if councillors had been more involved in the tender process.
To find out more about Brighton RiseUp! or to support their campaign, check out their website