The director of a small Edinburgh children’s charity has hit out at its larger rival Barnardo’s, accusing them of being “driven by pressure to increase their income at whatever cost”.

Kindred boss, Sophie Pilgrim, has claimed that Barnardo’s effectively forced her charity out of a joint bid for an City of Edinburgh Council contract and tried to prevent rival bids being launched.

She has called on the council to halt the “flawed tender” and claimed that if it goes ahead the quality of support received by families of children with disabilities will suffer drastically.

Barnardo’s deny the allegations.

Kindred is a parent-led charity that for more than 25 years has provided advice and support to families of children with disabilities. It has been supported by a mixture of funding from Edinburgh Council, the National Lottery, charitable trusts and individual donations.

In August 2017, Kindred’s future was plunged into uncertainty when Edinburgh Council announced that instead of renewing Kindred’s grant, it was launching a tender process for a contract worth more than £1m to provide a broad range of children’s services.

While Kindred is an expert in the work it does, the charity does not have the expertise to provide the whole range of services specified in the contract. So that month it teamed up with Barnardo’s and two other charities to put together a joint bid.

However, according to Pilgrim, the other charities insisted that Kindred provide its service for £48,000 which would have been insufficient to pay the salaries of its five-person team.

Providing the service at this cost would have resulted in redundancies and inferior support for children and their families, she said.

Subsequently, Pilgrim gathered Kindred’s staff in September for a meeting and issued notice of redundancies, causing significant distress.

Sophie Pilgrim (Director, Kindred) and her son Adam Pilgrim.
Sophie Pilgrim (Director, Kindred) and her son Adam Pilgrim.

Over the next few weeks while Pilgrim tried to drum up funds, the families who rely on Kindred’s work were writing to their politicians in an attempt to save the charity.

Their concerns appeared to have been heard as, according to Pilgrim, Edinburgh council gave assurances they would help save Kindred. Days later, on September 25, the original tender was re-issued with an extra £206,000 added to the budget.

Pilgrim said she was sure these funds had been added to assist Kindred and, as she felt it was unfair to leave her staff in limbo, she withdrew the threat of redundancy.

However, not everyone shared Pilgrim’s view that the funds were designed to support Kindred’s work.

Barnardo’s assistant director of business development, Elizabeth Macshane, told Pilgrim that the charity was not prepared to increase the funding allocated to Kindred in their joint bid.

"I am amazed by the way Barnardo's have behaved. They seem to be driven by pressure to increase their income at whatever cost. It as if they are a profit-driven company." Sophie Pilgrim, Director, Kindred

When contacted subsequently by The Ferret, Edinburgh Council said the extra money was not added in response to Kindred lobbying and is not intended to directly replicate their service.

A council spokesperson said: “As an outcome of the co-production process earlier in the year, when third sector organisations came together, and to ensure a long-term strategy of strengthening early intervention in the context of rising demand, extra funding of £206,000 was identified for the first three years of the contract for information advice, consultancy and awareness raising.”

With Kindred unable to access these extra funds, the future of its staff and services was again under severe threat.

Pilgrim later became aware that Enable, Scotland’s largest charity for people with learning disabilities, was preparing a rival bid for the contract.

Pilgrim approached Enable to see if they could work together on a bid and says she received “kind and supportive” emails from senior figures in the charity. With both charities keen, in principle, to pursue a new joint bid, a meeting was organised.

However, the rules around tender contracts mean that current service providers must share details of their staffing costs (TUPE) with other organisations considering putting in a rival bid.

Pilgrim alleges that Barnardo’s, as a provider of some of the services being put out to tender, claimed their staffing costs would be £1.2m. However, she said the tender documentation showed that the current services provided by Barnardo’s had total costs valued at £808,000.

Pilgrim also claims – when she was working with Barnardo’s on their joint bid – that they told her not to provide staffing costs to rival bidders until the last minute in order to leave them at a disadvantage.

After meeting with Kindred, Enable decided that the financial risks associated with the tender were too great and decided not to bid, but they did say they would write to the council explaining their position.

An Enable spokesperson said that, as the tender process remains live, they did not want to comment.

Pilgrim said: “I am amazed by the way Barnardo’s have behaved. They seem to be driven by pressure to increase their income at whatever cost. It as if they are a profit-driven company.”

She added: “Kindred is a service set up by parents but this was of no interest to Barnardo’s. They didn’t take the trouble to understand our service.

“The loss of our additional support for learning service in Edinburgh is a pretty devastating blow for Kindred and could even mean the end of our organisation.”

The charity currently plans to shut down its head office in Edinburgh and make up to five staff redundant, with further redundancies planned if it it cannot find more funding soon.

Pilgrim has met with and written to Edinburgh Council leader Adam Mcvey and deputy leader Cammy Day asking them to “halt this flawed tender” and to re-design it “following genuine consultation with families”.

In the letter, Pilgrim calls on the councillors to “investigate whether other potential providers were provided with timely and accurate TUPE information by current providers. Kindred had the possibility of tendering with another potential bidder and I believe that they were unable to bid because they could not establish liabilities.”

More than 2000 supporters have signed a petition launched by the charity where it claims it has been “blocked” from bidding for funding by the current tender process.

An Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “The open tender for this new service was produced after input from both service users and providers. This valuable stakeholder engagement helped inform the specification and highlighted the need for a ‘one service’ philosophy with providers working together to improve services for children and their families.”

The spokesperson added: “This opportunity was openly advertised for all interested parties and collaborative bids between third sector organisations were encouraged, with extra time being allowed for the process. The outcome of the tender process is still to be determined.”

John Downie, director of public affairs for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said: “Third sector organisations of all sizes do occasionally have to compete for contracts, funding and commissioned work.

“With an ever shrinking public purse, collaboration between third sector organisations with different strengths and specialisms is an effective way for third sector organisations to achieve the best outcomes for people who depend on their services. There are real opportunities here but it means changing and adapting to work better together.”

We sympathise with Kindred’s financial position but we cannot accept the allegations that Barnardo’s Scotland has behaved inappropriately in relation to this tender. Martin Crewe, Director, Barnardo's Scotland

Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “Barnardo’s Scotland has led a consortium involving two other charities to bid for Edinburgh Council’s lot 1 tender. Kindred was involved in early discussions with us around their helpline but chose not to progress as members of the consortium.

“We have always worked as positively as possible with partner charities but we are constrained by the terms of the tender. The helpline element is only one small part of the tender even after the re-issue to include extra funding for parent-led support. An indication of this is that only one Kindred post is identified as a potential TUPE transfer within the tender.”

He added: “We have always tried to engage positively as we recognise that Kindred provides valued services to parents and we would have welcomed them as part of our consortium.

“We sympathise with Kindred’s financial position but we cannot accept the allegations that Barnardo’s Scotland has behaved inappropriately in relation to this tender. As in all of our work, Barnardo’s Scotland is committed to providing the best possible services to children and families.

“We do not believe the tender process is flawed but it does reflect the financial constraints within which Edinburgh City Council is operating. We await the outcome of the tender and, should we be successful, we would still want to engage positively with Kindred around the delivery of the helpline element of the tender.”

Full letter to City of Edinburgh Council

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