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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Charity braced for more job cuts after failing to land Cumbria council contract

A Carlisle-based charity fears it may have to axe jobs after Cumbria County Council awarded a key contract to a firm in Birmingham.

Cumbria-DeafVision cut jobs last year in the face of diminishing funds and bosses are now bracing themselves for more losses.

The trustees are to sell the charity’s three Cumbrian bases, including its Compton Street headquarters in Carlisle.

The crisis was triggered by the county council’s decision to award a £73,000 contract to supply specialist equipment for deaf people to The Birmingham Institute for the Deaf.

Staff previously employed by DeafVision have now transferred to the Midlands firm, which will operate its Cumbrian services from Yorkshire.

DeafVision, which also provides sign language interpreters and deaf awareness training, fears it will also lose its contract to supply three specialist social workers for the deaf, worth in the region of £200,000 per year.

The charity’s funding crisis is bound to fuel the debate about how far county councils should go in supporting local organisations at a time when they are under huge pressure to cut spending.

Cumbria-DeafVision is the latest organisation whose financial problems have emerged. Just a week ago, Cumbria CVS, which supports and advises voluntary organisations across the county, said it could lose up to a third of its staff as it battles to cope with “savage” spending cuts.

DeafVision chief executive Peter Shaw said it had provided specialist social workers for deaf people for 40 years on behalf of the county council.

He said: “Last year, the council decided to put this work out to tender and awarded the contract to an organisation from Birmingham, rather than continuing to work with Cumbria-DeafVision. Much of the work has been in partnership with the Cumbria County Council.

“Their ethos has changed and seems to favour large out-of-county operators rather than smaller Cumbrian-based providers such as Cumbria-DeafVision. We, along with the other local charities, are suffering accordingly.

“We appreciate the financial pressures the council face and the need to comply with the competition laws.

“We have always been willing to sit down with them to look at jointly finding a way forward.

“The loss of the specialist equipment work, the threatened loss of the social work provision and the reduction in income from the domiciliary care work we deliver adds up to around £300,000.

“This is a huge amount for a relatively small local charity such as we are and represents half of our income.”

The charity is also battling to reduce a £520,000 pension fund deficit – its staff have been entitled to the Local Government Pension Scheme. But coming out of the scheme would cost £1.5m – more than the charity’s assets.

For this reason, Cumbria DeafVision has been rendered less competitive.

Mr Shaw added: “The current thinking in Cumbria County Council, if and when implemented, will undoubtedly lead to more of our staff losing their jobs.”

The charity’s service manager Ian Douglas said: “As a Cumbrian, I’d say the way the council is approaching things is damaging the economy. This is Cumbrian money that is now going out of the county.”

He said the charity had huge experience of working with the 400 or so profoundly deaf people in the county, as well as their families, and others with hearing loss.

Some county councillors were surprised to learn that the equipment contract had gone to Birmingham.

Carlisle Castle ward councillor Willie Whalen said: “This is a long-established charity, which has worked for this county for generations. We should show some allegiance, and we can’t afford to let money go out of the county like this. It’s crazy.”

Alan Toole, who represents Belah, said: “I suppose it depends on the amount of money that is being saved by awarding the contract to the firm in Birmingham.

“If the savings are minimal the contract should have stayed in Cumbria.”

A county council spokesman said: “We have a fair and legal procurement process that gives best value for the people of Cumbria and most importantly for the people who need care.

“During our recent round of new contract agreements in adult social care we awarded 83 contracts, the majority of which were to local care providers.”

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