CVS to close rather than accept council contract

Kevin Curley, chief executive of umbrella body Navca, has criticised the decision of a Council for Voluntary Service in the West Midlands to close rather than tender for a council contract that it said would seriously undermine its independence.

Solihull CVS, which was set up in 1974, objected to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s decision to put voluntary sector support out to tender. The CVS claimed the successful bidder would effectively become a “sub-division of the local authority”, acting as “a delivery arm for specified services, as opposed to an independent facilitator of support to the voluntary and community sector in Solihull”. The local authority strongly denies the claims.

Curley described the decision not to bid as “a real pity” and said he did not agree that it would undermine the independence of the CVS.

A statement from the CVS, which has more than 200 members, said: “Such loss of independence is totally unacceptable to us.”

Chairman Trevor Luckcuck called the council’s proposal “control freakery and empire-building”.

The CVS said it couldn’t wait until the end of September, when the result of the tendering process is due to be announced, to find out where it stands financially, and objected to the fact that payments for the contract would be delivered quarterly in arrears. It said: “A relatively small organisation like Solihull CVS does not have the financial reserves to carry this delay in funding.”

The CVS claimed its ability to obtain funding from other non-council sources had been “seriously reduced” by a document the council published last October justifying its decision to put voluntary sector support out to tender. The document questioned the effectiveness of the CVS and criticised its management. According to the CVS, the document “showed bias and prejudice”.

Curley said the tender would undermine the independence of the CVS. “I have seen the tender document and I think it is a very good specification,” he said. “It gives the winner a chance to do all the work we would expect them to do, such as representing the voluntary and community sector and capacity building. It even has some interesting and novel features, such as helping the local voluntary sector with accommodation.”

Curley said he had told the chief officer of the CVS, Andy Moore, that as a “basically good organisation” it would have every chance of winning the tender with a good business plan.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s head of community and voluntary relations, Faisal Hussain, described Solihull CVS’s claims that the council wanted to take it over as “astounding” and “alarmist”.

He said the competitive tendering process had been driven by consultations with local groups in 2003 and 2006, both of which had highlighted the need for more support services. The council was also criticised for its “patronage” of Solihull CVS, with which it had no service-level agreement.

“We were told by local groups that we needed a stronger and more proactive umbrella organisation,” he said. “For the past 34 years we have had no idea what has been delivered. For the first time, we put in the tender documents targets and performance measures, but we have told those who want to tender that if they think they are off the wall they can suggest others.”

Hussain said the council would be writing to more than 500 local organisations to clarify the “unsettling” situation. “A lot of hard and good work has been undone by all this,” he said.

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