Domestic Abuse – You Are Not Alone

This is a really difficult blog post to write for multiple reasons, but one that I feel needs to be written.  I started off writing the post to outline the reasons why part of my re-election campaign is about seeking for a review of how specialist services, such as domestic abuse provision, are commissioned by the council.  The publication of the Wokingham Today front page on 17th March however, and my reaction to that, is now going to be a large part of the content of this post as well. I’d like to thank Louise Timlin from the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) for her hard work in holding the council to account on this matter through her persistent public questioning, and publicly raising many of the issues.

For anyone reading this who is a victim-survivor of domestic abuse, I want to reassure you that there is support out there for you.  At the bottom of this post, I have listed a number of agencies and charities who you can contact.  At no point do I want you to feel that due to the failures of the Council’s contracted service provider that I am about to highlight, that you can’t get the support you need, because you can. 

In July 2021, WBC’s new domestic abuse service provider officially started their contract following a competitive tender and 6-week mobilisation period.  At the time of the announcement that a company called Cranstoun had been awarded the contract, initial concerns were expressed.  Cranstoun have never directly provided victim-survivor support for domestic abuse before.  Their expertise is in substance misuse and working with perpetrators.  Contracts that they’ve held elsewhere in the country for domestic abuse provision, the victim-survivor support elements has always been sub-contracted. 

We’re now 9 months into the contract and sadly, the concerns many of us had and raised, are reality, and victim-survivors are not getting the support from Cranstoun that they are contracted to provide.  Other organisations such as Berkshire Women’s Aid (BWA) and Kaleidoscopic have been stepping in to fill the void. 

Before we get onto the refuge debacle, I wanted to highlight other aspects of the service failings.  The service provider is obliged to provide a 24/7 helpline.  It’s supposed to be manned during office hours with an out of hours emergency facility.  I tried the number out of hours myself to see first hand what the experience was and got a voicemail that stated that I needed to leave a message and they would aim to get back to me within 24 hours unless it was a weekend or bank holiday.  There was no further number to call.  I have been told anecdotally that some people have left messages and not got a call back.  I have advised them to put in an official complaint should this be the case. 

The service provider is supposed to provide group support options.  9 months into the contract and the first session was held last week (mid-March 2022) with others coming online in May.  Local charity Kaleidoscopic has thankfully been providing and continues to provide group sessions for victim-survivors ensuring that a strong support network is there. 

The service provider is also supposed to provide IDVA (independent domestic violence advisor) support, yet I met recently with a survivor who has been let down by this aspect of the service and is in the process of submitting a formal complaint.  She has resorted to getting IDVA support from elsewhere. 

It is though the refuge provision that has created the headlines, literally in terms of the Wokingham Today article, and through the many questions raised in public meetings.  The statement that Cranstoun made in the Wokingham Today article that “they are not responsible for providing a refuge provision” is factually incorrect.  The service provider is obliged to provide a minimum of 3 rooms of refuge provision within Wokingham Borough.  Cranstoun have failed to do this and continues to search for suitable provision. 

Cranstoun’s comments in the Wokingham Today article also state that “the refuge provision was withheld by the previous provider when the service went live in July 2021,” which again is misleading.  No assets were to be transferred as part of the contract and Cranstoun submitted their bid knowing this. 

BWA have throughout this period provided the refuge provision, but it wasn’t until November 2021 that they finally started receiving funding from WBC for this.  They were asked to apply for an emergency grant which takes them until March 2022.  Going forward they have been asked again to apply for a grant to continue to provide this service.  They and I have raised with WBC that this isn’t acceptable because they are providing a key service for the council which should be done in a properly contracted way, rather than through grant funding.  Does this also mean that WBC are paying twice for a service that they are receiving only once?  So far, no one has been able to answer this question.  WBC have acknowledged the issues around this, and work is underway to rectify it. 

WBC officers have assured me that they are working hard to rectify the other concerns as well and some very careful contract monitoring is taking place.  I will be watching this carefully and will continue to question and challenge where necessary. 

Going back to my very first comment about seeking a review of how specialist service provision is commissioned, this commitment is as a direct response to what has happened with the awarding of the contract to Cranstoun.  I am not in any way challenging the tendering process once it was started.  I do believe that this was done correctly.  The concern is that a competitive tender process was deemed to be the correct method of commissioning a specialist service.  Ultimately, the company with the best bid writer won, not necessarily the company best placed to deliver what was required.  There are some lessons to be learnt here.

There is a fantastic network of support in Wokingham borough, and I am grateful that organisations like BWA and Kaleidoscopic have been there and do the work that they do.  Should anyone need any support, below are a list of agencies and charities that you can reach out to.  Whilst not a domestic abuse practitioner myself, should anyone reading this want to reach out to me confidentially about anything I’ve mentioned or with any concerns that you would like help with signposting, I can be reached on 07983 701367.  Please know that you are not alone.

One thought on “Domestic Abuse – You Are Not Alone”

  1. Shocking, but as expected from the Council. We are lucky that Charities have stepped in but they need proper resources to enable them to plan.

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