QUESTIONS regarding Richmond Court development - Executive Meeting: 5 September 2012 (21 questions):
1. Question: Can you please confirm that the Chief Executive of this Council, who is an appointed officer and not an elected representative, does not have the authority to reinterpret a decision passed unanimously by the full Council. (Jeremy Larken)
1. Answer: On considering the notice of motion Council decided that;
“Council calls on the Executive of Cheshire West and Chester to engage in a full and open consultation with the local community on the decision to locate the homeless hub at Richmond Court, Boughton.”
The management of the homelessness service and the decision to award this contract are matters that fall within the remit of the Executive not the full Council. Therefore, decisions in relation to those issues cannot, as a matter of law, be made by full Council. They can only be made by the full Executive, individual Executive members or officers under the scheme of delegation, as appropriate.
The minute does not call upon the Executive to change the location or to consult on an alternative location, which it could easily have done. It specifically refers to consultation on the decision, clearly reflecting the fact that the decision had already been made.
The legal advice to the Council has been consistent on this issue that the Council cannot change the parameters of the procurement process at this stage. Had the decision of the Council suggested that the consultation should or could bring about a change in the location of the facility then the clear advice would have been given to Council at the time the motion was debated that the Council would not have been able to do this within the procurement process which has been undertaken.
Therefore, it is not a question of the Chief Executive reinterpreting the decision of full Council . The commitment has been given in response to the comments of the public and in accordance with the motion of full Council, that the Council will consult on the decision and how that will be implemented. The Council is also examining how in future, given the legal rules which apply to procurement processes, the public can be involved and engaged at the various stages of the procurement process. The Council has also made it clear that if, during the course of the consultation or after it has been completed, any members of the public remain dissatisfied they will be advised on their options for further objecting to the Council’s decision.
2. Question: The Cheshire West and Chester’s media release of today, announcing a three month consultation on the use of Richmond Court as a new homeless hub is plainly framed at informing the public about the operation of the supposed new centre, not whether or not Richmond Court is a suitable location at all. Can you please confirm that the motion passed by Council to have a full and open consultation on the decision to use Richmond Court will be honoured, and that no formal contract will be signed committing the service provider to this location until the consultation process has been exhausted and alternative solutions fully evaluated. (Jeremy Larken)
2. Answer: For the reasons set out in the answer to Question 1 the Council will consult in accordance with the terms of the motion. However, that will not delay the the completion of the contract.
3. Question: It has now been established beyond doubt that it was the Council who insisted on Richmond Court being the Hub location. It was not offered by CDHT and therefore was not a consequence of an open tendering process. Can you please confirm who made that decision and when. (Andreas Vogt)
3. Answer: This is incorrect. At no stage in the procurement process did the Council either insist on Richmond Court being the location or express a preference for this solution. Not only would this have been contrary to the rules of procurement, it would also potentially have ruled out or discouraged other solutions, which would have defeated the object of the tendering process.
Approximately 18 months ago, the Council conducted a property search. This was to identify whether, in addition to the current service locations, there were buildings available in the borough with the potential to meet an outline specification. Richmond Court was identified as one of two such premises the other being Lightfoot Lodge, Lightfoot Street, Hoole (currently occupied for older peoples day services and owned by CWaC). While this search identified potential sites, it was acknowledged that other sites may be available which are not known to the Council. This included the potential to refurbish the existing provider premises to meet the specification. The Council wished to ensure that the widest choice of options could be considered.
The procurement exercise was the means to identify and decide on a preferred location. Therefore, when the formal procurement route was commenced the Council explicitly stated in the documentation that it was open to accommodation proposals from all prospective providers so long as it met the specification of being within walking distance of the city centre. Richmond Court and Lightfoot Lodge were not included in any of the procurement documentation.
When the current providers were not shortlisted as part of the PQQ process, the Council reconsidered the issue of accommodation and maintained that the procurement process would encourage a range of property options to be put forward by prospective suppliers. Throughout the competitive dialogue process, prospective suppliers worked to develop other property options. Until the procurement process was fully completed, the preferred location of the service was undecided.
In a public statement issued last week, CDHT, as part of Foundation Enterprises, “confirmed that they had considered a number of properties under its ownership but concluded that Richmond Court was the best match to the Council specification.”
4. Question: Given that Richmond Court became the Hub building for the provision of this service at the insistence of the Council, can you please confirm why that decision, which was obviously independent of the tendering process in which commercial sensitivities might apply, was not the subject of a community consultation. (Andreas Vogt)
4. Answer: Please refer to the response given to Question 3 above. The decision to locate at Richmond Court was not at the insistence of the local authority but was part of the offer made by the successful tenderer, Foundation Enterprises, which was accepted by the Council in awarding the contract.
5. Question: If the eventual use of Richmond Court was the desired outcome of the procurement process, was the Pre Qualification Questionnaire weighted to exclude organisations such as Chester Aid to The Homeless who could not deliver that outcome and would continue to operate in the existing location? (Don Speakman)
5. Answer: The procurement process did not predetermine nor favour the eventual use of Richmond Court nor was the pre-qualification questionnaire weighted against any specific organisation.
6. Question: The understanding of the Council, as expressed in a letter dated 28/8 covering the issue of information requested under the Freedom of Information Act, is that CDHT do not operate any other homeless shelters and Forum Housing deliver supported housing to Councils in the Merseyside area. No mention is made of rough sleeper experience and yet in the PQQ they scored significantly higher than CATH who have 40 years experience. How can you explain this? (Karen Stevenson)
6. Answer: The PQQ was designed to enable prospective providers to demonstrate their ability, understanding, experience, skills, resources, and quality measures needed to meet the requirement. A procurement panel scored each of the ten PQQ submissions. Five organisations were invited to participate in the next stage of the process. The bid from CDHT and Forum Housing Association demonstrated their relevant capabilities such that the score of the procurement panel placed their bid in the top five submissions.
It was clear in the PQQ document that between four and six suppliers would be invited to participate in the subsequent stage of the competitive procurement process based on an evaluation of the bids submitted. The bid from CATH scored ninth out of ten submissions.
Prior to the formal commencement of the procurement process, the Council held a procurement workshop that was attended by all of the current suppliers. An offer was made to support any organisation that felt it would need help to provide a high quality submission within the process. No organisations took up this offer.
7. Question: CATH has charitable status so derives its income from a combination of charitable donations and Council support. This initiative is designed, primarily, to save money (although no doubt the Council would argue it is to improve the service). Given the opposition to the changes being proposed and bewilderment at the move away from the City Centre has the Council considered consulting with CATH to improve an apparently failing service and save money by placing more reliance on the charitable donations? (Ben Roberts)
7. Answer: The Council’s published homelessness strategy (approved by Council in March 2010) details our aspirations for modernising and improving services for homeless people. As part of this commitment to modernise homelessness services the Council has followed a procurement process and awarded a contract. CDHT and Forum Housing Association put forward the use of Richmond Court as short-term supported accommodation for homeless people as an element of their bid. Following the planned refurbishment, this facility will meet many of the aspirations in our published strategy.
CATH were involved in the reviews of rough sleeping and homelessness that informed the homelessness strategy. CATH were also involved in reviewing drafts of the homeless strategy prior to its approval. In the meantime, Council officers have worked with CATH to implement some of the short-term developments via a development plan. Throughout this time, the Council’s aspirations to improve the quality of accommodation for homeless people have been well known to current service providers. Nevertheless, the size of the contract meant that the Council was legally required to undertake a competitive procurement process.
8. Question: The brief for the new service provider does not include Day Care. The existing Day Care centre, which is intended to refocus on education, includes a wet area where people who need to can drink under supervision. Since this facility can no longer be relied upon, and will not form part of an integrated service, where do the Council see these facilities being provided in the future? (Karen Stevenson)
8. Answer: Discussions are ongoing with CATH. Their management and board are considering what services the organisation can offer that will complement the new model. The Council is supporting this process through a member working group, officer meetings, and meetings with the new providers. CATH have indicated that they may decide to cease operating the day centre as ‘wet’ provision. That being the case, the Council will need to decide whether providing day centre facilities for people who need to drink alcohol excessively is something that is in the public interest.
9. Question: Given that the existing service provider will have had their contract terminated on 25 November this year, and an alternative hub in any location could not become available until mid 2013 at the earliest, how do you see the contract being delivered on, for example, February 1st 2013? (Karen Stevenson)
9. Answer: The existing service providers, the new services providers, the Council, and other partners are committed to ensuring that service users will not be disadvantaged in the transition. Current premises will continue to be utilised until such a time as the proposed Richmond Court is available. This is scheduled for April 2013 but the interim arrangements will remain in place until the facilities at the new location are ready which will be a considerable improvement on much of the current provision.
10. Question: There is deep concern that when the Democratic Process is overlooked in any one area of society, WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING TO FEAR. We elected you, the Council, by the Democratic Process – to represent us. We want, and need, to feel confident that when we hold you to account, you will respond honourably and appropriately. What needs to happen NOW for you, the Council, to fulfil your Democratic Obligation for transparency in deciding the future of Richmond Court? No contract has yet been signed so the situation is recoverable. We are not going to go away until the democratic process has been implemented. (Frances Matthews)
10. Answer: As outlined in the recent press release from the local authority a three-month consultation with local residents on plans for the new homeless facility at Richmond Court will be undertaken and commences on 1st October 2012.
11. Question: The number of homeless and rough sleepers currently exceeds the number being catered for by the new arrangements. The difference has been explained away by repatriation which will be a bonusable objective for the new provider. This, if it happens at all, will not happen overnight. How will the shortfall be dealt with, and who will pay? (David Ford)
11. Answer: In the transition to the new service, every individual service user will have a personal plan to ensure that no one suffers an adverse outcome as a result of the transition to the new service. All organisations involved have agreed to this principle. There are 65 units of emergency accommodation in the current system. In the new system, there will be least 60 units of emergency accommodation from the end of November and potentially up to 70. The nature of emergency short-term services is that turnover is high and we anticipate that the transition can be managed effectively.
In terms of formerly homeless people placed in transitional or ‘move-on’ accommodation, there are 49 units in the current system and 18 units in the new system. A recent study found that around half of service users in Cheshire West and Chester’s short-term supported accommodation were merely waiting for permanent accommodation to become available. Figures submitted by our current providers show that at any one time, in the region of 18 service users in homeless accommodation are ready and waiting for permanent accommodation. All current service users will receive a thorough assessment of their support needs. Some service users in transitional accommodation will be referred to other support services, some will move to other permanent accommodation, and others – where the needs assessment indicates that this is sustainable – will retain their current accommodation as a permanent housing solution without support.
Staff of both the current and new service providers will be working to maximise the numbers of service users moving through the system to positive destinations, including appropriate reconnection to other local authority areas, to assist with the transition.
The payment by results mechanism is part of contract price as agreed for the service through the procurement process.
12. Question: We are led to believe the Hub building will house the full spectrum of homeless people, from law abiding victims of circumstance to extremely anti social individuals who struggle to integrate into society. Catering for these varying needs will be extremely challenging so it is not unreasonable to expect a comprehensivesive risk assessment to have been prepared prior to the award of contract. As requested many times previously, can we please have sight of it? (John Curran)
12. Answer: . Risk assessment is an ongoing process and we expect that the initial assessment will be changed and updated as necessary. An updated version of the risk assessment will be made publicly available as part of the material made available by the Council to help inform the 12-week consultation process. As is standard practice in supported accommodation of any description, each individual client referred to Richmond Court will be the subject of a comprehensive needs and risk assessment. Where there are demonstrable grounds to believe that it would be unsafe to allow a particular client to reside at Richmond Court they will not be admitted to the building.
13. Question: Typically the areas around homeless shelters have associated detritus such as needles, alcohol containers, bottles, cans etc and, without stereotyping the homeless and rough sleeper community, inevitably suffer increased levels of anti social behaviour The area around Richmond Court is riddled with alleyways, entries and back streets with parks and school fields nearby. What provision will be made to keep the surrounding area clear of these items? What measures will be taken to ensure the safety and security of children, residents, passers by, tourists and local businesses in connection with these activities and where will the funding for these measures come from? (Phil Wilson)
13. Answer: The forthcoming consultation will be a further opportunity for the new providers and the Council to discuss concerns with the community and identify any issues that may need to be addressed. We do not accept the inevitability of the problems stated. Whether these problems are already present or happen later, high quality homeless services can play a positive role in helping to resolve such issues and make a positive contribution to the community. The consultation can help identify such areas of concern and appropriate measures and resources can then be considered.
Our aim is for the consultation process to become a platform for longer term community engagement so that any issues which could arise in the future can be raised and resolved.
14. Question: Our house in Kimberley Terrace is directly opposite Richmond Court, on the other side of the canal. It has been for sale since March this year, with many interested parties and lots of viewings. Since July, when news of a possible homeless shelter became public knowledge, two firm offers have been withdrawn and many viewings cancelled. What will CWAC do to help local residents sell their unsaleable homes? How do CWAC intend to help with unsaleable properties in terms of support and compensation? (Marion Proe)
14. Answer: The Council would not make compensation payments to residents in the circumstances outlined above and this would not be a lawful and proper use of tax payers money. However, in the longer term house prices may benefit from the significant regeneration proposals mentioned in response to Q.17, below.
15. Question: It is fair to assume that most if not all of the intended residents of Richmond Court will have very little, if any, disposable income. They are therefore unlikely to benefit local businesses. Can you please name one benefit of any kind the local community will derive from having this facility in its midst? (Dominic May)
15. Answer: Apart from the benefit of bringing back into active use a building which is currently empty and at risk of further deterioration and becoming an eye sore, the use of Richmond Court will bring investment and improvements not only to the fabric of the building but also to the surrounding area, providing an opportunity to address some long-standing concerns in the local area (such as CCTV, lighting) and bringing staff, clients and visitors into the local economy. The potential for identifying further benefits to the local community will be a feature of the forthcoming consultation with local residents and businesses where the local authority and the new provider will be keen to explore proposals put forward through the consultation process.
16. Question: Why does the Executive feel that the rights and views of the residents of Boughton and Hoole, who are ratepayers of this Borough, are less important than those of rough sleepers, the homeless and the businesses who provide services for these people, and as a consequence excluded the residents of these wards from any form of consultation? (Victoria May)
16. Answer: The Executive has an important role to recognise and respond to the rights and views of all the residents of the Borough. Clearly, the informed views of the local residents of Boughton and Hoole are vital to the successful operation of the services from Richmond Court and the 12 week consultation period will provide a valuable opportunity for two-way consultation with local residents.
17. Question: Why have you chosen to abandon the regeneration of Boughton and Hoole and why is the economy of this ward less important than the regeneration of the City Centre? (Colin Wright)
17. Answer: The regeneration of the whole of Chester is a key priority for the Executive as set out in the recently publicised One City Plan (launched in May 2012). This includes significant regeneration proposals in the local area surrounding Richmond Court including the Business Quarter, the Shot Tower and the Waitrose development.
18. Question: The Councillor, speaking on behalf of the residents in the City Centre, stated that they enjoyed an above average level of attention from the police and security services by virtue of their position in the City Centre and proximity to the existing facilities. Once the requirement for those services is diverted elsewhere, how will their security level be maintained? (Sharon Davis)
18. Answer: A thorough need and risk assessment will be carried out for each individual client referred to Richmond Court and reviewed periodically thereafter. This is standard practice for all types of supported accommodation. Where there are genuine grounds to believe that it would be unsafe to allow a particular client to reside at Richmond Court they will not be admitted to the building. Cheshire Police have been engaged throughout the procurement process. There will be a 24-hour waking staff presence at the service and positive relationships will be maintained with local police officers.
19. Question: Given that the journey to this point began three years ago, and the Officer’s Decision Notice envisages a time when additional services may be relocated to Richmond Court, are any plans for this being considered, even in vague terms, at the present time? Bear in mind the answer to this question, as well as all the others, is going on public record. (Frank Proe)
19. Answer: Nationally there are examples of various ancillary, related, or community service that are delivered from supported accommodation for the homeless. For example, these include education, training, volunteering, employment, and health related services. Through the consultation with residents and stakeholders, and as the service develops once in place, the new providers may identify appropriate opportunities to locate such services at Richmond Court. This is certain to include meaningful education, training, employment, and volunteering initiatives for homeless people as this is part of the bid. Other appropriate services for homeless people or the community may be developed and implemented at any time during the life of the contract and in discussion with relevant stakeholders including local residents.
20. Question: We believe the procurement process was not carried out in accordance with the Council’s constitution and that Key Decisions were made by people not empowered to do so, that decisions not considered to be Key Decisions were, that the tendering procedure was flawed and that insufficient regard was paid to human rights and consultation. Despite reassurances to the contrary can you confirm this matter will be investigated by the Scrutiny Committee as requested. (Frank Proe)
20. Answer: The procurement of the Homeless service was carried out in accordance with the Council’s constitution and was an open procurement process conducted under the competitive dialogue procedure. Therefore, there is no intention for the matter to be referred to the Scrutiny Committee but the Public Accounts Committee has been asked to investigate how the Council can consult more effectively with the public within the constraints of the procurement regulations. Furthermore, the Executive has put in place a cross-party Members Homeless Strategy Implementation Task Group with the specific terms of reference “to oversee the implementation of the new contract and to assess what role all local organisations supporting homeless people will have in the future”. This group has already met on two separate occasions and its Membership is Councillor Jill Houlbrook (Homeless Champion), Councillor Margaret Parker, Councillor Bob Rudd, Councillor Malcolm Byram, Councillor Lynn Clare and a permanent open invite to the local member for the area of Richmond Court, Councillor David Robinson. This group has overseen a number of key strands of work including:-
Accommodation issues at Richmond Court; Discussions with the new Provider, FENW Discussions with the current service providers (including current service, future roles and funding, future use of buildings, ongoing relationship with new provider) Implementation of the new Homeless service Engagement with key stakeholders Visit to best practise sites.
21. Question: And this one’s for Angela Chidley who can’t be here tonight. You’ve seen and heard from a community united in its opposition to this proposal, concerned at the implications for its residents, its environment and its children, and betrayed by its elected representatives. Believe it or not our concerns do not come purely from self interest but also from a strongly held belief that this is the wrong decision for the homeless and rough sleeper population themselves. You will be getting a copy of every question asked here tonight and we expect a full and comprehensive response, independent of the forthcoming consultation which, in accordance with the Council vote, WILL be about the DECISION to locate a homeless hub at Richmond Court. Only then will we start to think that the Democratic Process is alive and well. (Frank Proe / Angela Chidley)
21. Answer: As promised, the local authority has provided a full written response to all the questions raised at the September Executive.