A coalition of Leeds charities are coming together in a unique partnership to try and stop a key grass roots mental health service contract falling into private hands.
Leeds City Council is about to launch a competitive tender process for community based mental health day services across the city.
Three charities - Leeds Mind, Touchstone and Community Links - currently provide the variety of prevention and early intervention support between them, on an individual contract basis.
The projects include suicide prevention training, anti-stigma work and a variety of therapies.
But now, the local authority wants to streamline services, and is starting a brand new bidding process for the £1.2m a year contract, with a launch in March 2018.
The current contract expires in March 2019.
A council document seen by the YEP explains that currently, the three providers have a variety of sites across the city offering “multiple points of access”.
The council says this “can make it difficult for service users to access services particularly if they are not familiar with mental health services in Leeds”.
It is hoped that bringing everything together under one service - and offering round the clock access - “will make it easier for people to access the right support at the time needed”.
However mental health professionals fear that if the contract falls into the hands of a private arms length organisation, vital grass roots links established by the voluntary sector will vanish, to the detriment of some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
Alison Lowe, chief executive of Touchstone, admitted that a review of the running of services was “the right thing to do absolutely”, and competition was “the nature of the beast”.
But she stressed that current third-sector providers - and the vital grass roots knowledge they possess - are at “risk from the private sector”, and that is why the trio are putting in a joint tender.
“We thought what was the point of running the risk of losing the contract, when we could have a consortium and win it for the whole of Leeds?” she said.
She explained that community-based work was “one strand of a wider strategy” in the city’s mental health services, but acknowledged that “needs have changed, and responses have changed”.
“Yes, it is a risk, but I am not worried,” she added.
“I am confident that whether it’s a consortium or another third sector body, they will win the contract.
“[The contract] will require knowledge, which the voluntary sector has,” she said. “We have been doing this for 100 years between us.”
It is understood all existing staff would be redeployed as part of any new contract award.
WHAT NEXT, WHEN AND WHY FOR LIFELINE SERVICE?
A bidders’ event will be held in March 2018, with the contract to be awarded by September.
There will be a six month “mobilisation period” and the new contract will start in April 2019.
The council says a “large scale consultation will take place with service users, carers and other stakeholders”, which will also “seek views as to the availability of the service, particularly around opening times”.
“The existing providers have also been asked for their feedback on how the new service could be developed for the future,” the newly signed-off council report says.
“There are no other alternatives to how these services can be delivered therefore there is a need to undertake a procurement exercise as the existing contracts will end on 31 March 2019.”