North Lanarkshire Council has been accused of taking a “callous step” by cancelling its £350,000 annual payment to three Women’s Aid groups in return for striking a new £1m contract with Sacro, the offender rehabilition organisation.
The Scotsman understands that Monklands Women’s Aid, Motherwell District Women’s Aid and North Lanarkshire Women’s Aid all tendered for the new contract but were unsuccessful as they do not accept men into their refuges and do not work with perpetrators of violence.
Statistics for domestic abuse in North Lanarkshire show that there is nearly one incident for every 37 households, with Airdrie and Coatbridge the worst affected. According to the council’s own figures, 89 per cent of victims are women, and 11 per cent men.
Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said she was “appalled” at the actions of the council which had “pulled the rug from under the feet of long-established, trusted women’s aid services” and that legal action could be taken.
“While Women’s Aid services were busy responding to Covid-19 to continue providing their vital support for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse in North Lanarkshire, they were met with hostility in unnecessary, competitive tendering processes from North Lanarkshire Council that lacked both transparency and accountability,” she said.
“This did not have to happen and the result is that North Lanarkshire is now the only local authority area in Scotland that does not commission Women’s Aid services – a sad reflection of their complete lack of understanding of the complex nature of domestic abuse and an upsetting dismissal of decades of work by grass-roots, local Women’s Aid services who are trusted and respected within their communities.”
She added: “Women in Scotland have felt a disproportionate impact of Covid – whether in unpaid care work, home schooling, job losses or homelessness. All of those impacts are compounded for women and children living with domestic abuse.
"It is incomprehensible to us that North Lanarkshire Council have taken the decisions they have, in the full knowledge that this will further disadvantage those women and children by disrupting their access to specialist support around domestic abuse.
“We will continue to communicate with elected members about our concerns around the tender process, and we intend to publish those communications in due course. Given the severity of the situation, and the direct risk to the rights and protections of women and children experiencing domestic abuse, we are also carefully considering the legal options available to us.”
The decision not to award the tender to Women’s Aid services and fund a generic service provider was made on February 23 at an Education and Families Committee of the council.
A source in one of the affected Women’s Aid groups said the "gender neutral” tender process had been unfair as they did not not, and could never work with perpetrators of violence against women, putting them at a disadvantage to a bigger organisation such as Sacro.
“We also don’t accept men in our refuges which we are entitled not to do in law as a single sex service so the odds of any of us winning the tender were stacked against us. It has been grossly unfair and has left us all in a very precarious situation and could possibly mean reducing the numbers of women we can help. We don’t know what the future is at all.”
A spokeswoman for the council said Sacro had won the tender which “was issued in accordance with procurement regulations for these services”.
She added: “It was recognised that the wider policy and practice environment within which specialist services operated had changed significantly over the last five years and an independent review was carried out.
"The review included identifying whether current services met the demand in the context of the evolving policy framework, the current needs of people experiencing domestic abuse and to inform how domestic abuse services should be designed and commissioned in the future. The review identified gaps in service provision and made recommendations.
“This led to a recommendation to carry out a tendering exercise to procure a specialist domestic abuse service that ensured compliance with statutory and legal obligations and was agreed at Education and Families Committee on 19 May 2020.
"Sacro will provide a domestic abuse service which will predominately focus on women and children but will not preclude other victims of domestic abuse who may require support.”
However she said that refuge provision was not included in the tender won by Sacro and the council would “continue to work with local women’s aid groups for this service” and added: “It is simply untrue for Women’s Aid to suggest that the council has anything other than the welfare of people who require support in mind.”
A spokeswoman for Monklands Women’s Aid said they were “devastated” at the decision of the council which “undermines the availability of quality proven local independent specialist support.”
She added: “Monklands WA will survive because of separate funding and will continue to offer women’s, children and young person’s services, as well as offer specialist refuge provision.
"Our core focus is supporting women, children and young people who have suffered domestic abuse and our approach, practice and understanding has been built up by listening to those we work with. We listen to those we serve and we shape our services accordingly.
"We are trusted by our community, and have grown out of grass roots movements in the area. This level of trust and understanding is not something that can be replicated by generic providers. Be under no allusion domestic abuse is a form of gender based abuse and women routinely lose their lives due to domestic abuse.
“This decision to award a contract to a non-specialist community justice organisation makes the mistake of seeing domestic abuse as gender neutral and will negatively impact on women, children and young people.”
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is available 24/7 on 0800 027 1234 Monkland’s Women’s Aid has set up a crowdfunder to help it replace lost financial support.