New centre for independent living leads to loss of two DPOs


Two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in Northamptonshire have been forced to close after a total of nearly 50 years fighting for disabled people in the county, following the loss of key council funding.

The loss of the two DPOs has highlighted issues created by the Labour government’s demand for there to be a user-led centre for independent living (CIL) in every area by 2010.

Disabled People’s Alliance Northamptonshire (DPAN) and Ability Northants were both part of a consortium of local charities that bid for the contract to run a new CIL in the county.

But the £500,000-a-year contract was won instead by a DPO from neighbouring Bedfordshire, Disability Resource Centre (DRC).

DPAN also lost out in a joint bid with other local organisations for another £500,000-a-year contract to provide advocacy services for disabled people.

This contract was awarded to the national organisation Advocacy Partners Speaking Up – which is not a user-led organisation – supported by Advocacy Alliance, which works across Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire.

As part of this reorganisation, DPAN lost out on its core funding from Northamptonshire County Council and will have to close, while Ability Northants closed at the end of March.

John Smith, DPAN’s coordinator, said losing traditional DPOs like DPAN would mean the loss of their independent “campaigning, checking role” that ensured councils were held accountable to disabled people.

Smith will probably join DPAN’s disability rights service in transferring to the new CIL, which he said had been “very good in recognising that it is a difficult situation”.

But he said many other user-led organisations that were winning contracts to run CILs were not DPOs, with many controlled by carers and other people “with an interest in disability”.

He said: “The old CILs came from the grassroots. Disabled people developed them and now local authorities are saying they want carers in their CILs. It’s a different animal.

“I think it is really important to retain that distinction, that little word ‘of’ [as in an organisation ‘of’ disabled people, rather than ‘for’ disabled people].

“We didn’t apologise that we were all disabled people. We should be assertive and say that that is the right way.”

Mick Dillon, DRC’s chief executive, said he was a wheelchair-user himself and DRC was “user-led at every level of the organisation”.

He said the new CIL had established a board of service-users to “act as our watchdog”, while 19 of its 20 staff came from Northamptonshire, and none from Bedfordshire.

But he accepted that DRC tried to “work in partnership rather than direct action”.

Dillon said DRC was hugely experienced in running direct payments and personalisation services, and said services in Northamptonshire would be “further improved”, building on DPAN’s work and its “wealth of experience”.

He added: “I am happy to be judged on my results.”

A council spokeswoman said the new CIL would “bring both improved services and a wider range of services than ever before for disabled people in the county”, while “local disabled people, carers and those who support disabled people” would have “a direct involvement” in how the service was run.

18 August 2010