Real DPO fends off POhWER bid after mayor’s intervention


A local disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has succeeded in fending off a national charity that was trying to use its financial might to take over a contract to provide support to users of direct payments.

The future of Real in Tower Hamlets, east London, had been at risk after the local authority awarded the contract to the charity POhWER.

Real had been providing support to disabled people in the borough for eight years, and a survey of its service-users found 100 per cent agreed they had been given helpful information and support on direct payments.

Following protests from disabled people in Tower Hamlets, the council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted unanimously last September to ask the elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman, to reconsider the decision to award the new contract to POhWER.

He agreed to do so and decided that the council should re-tender for the contract. In the meantime, Real’s contract has been extended.

Since he made that decision, Rahman has been removed from power by an election court, although he is appealing against the court’s judgment.

Disability News Service (DNS) reported last year that POhWER had won the £354,000 a year contract by under-cutting its competitors with a bid of £199,000, even though Real scored the highest of all seven bidders on “quality”.

Nine of Real’s 16 staff are disabled people, as are more than 70 per cent of the team who deliver the direct payments support service.

POhWER has an annual turnover of nearly £10 million a year and “unrestricted reserves” of £850,000, and delivers services to about 60 local authorities across England. Four of its nine trustees are disabled people.

National policy documents stress the importance of services delivered by local, user-led organisations, and Real was backed in its fight by other DPOs, including Inclusion London and Disability Rights UK.

Mike Smith (pictured), Real’s chief executive and the former disability commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “I can’t comment on the specifics of this, to ensure Real doesn’t fall foul of anti-competition law in any future re-tendering.

“But I can say that I’m very relieved that we can now get on with the day job – delivering a great locally-delivered service for local residents, run and controlled by local disabled people.

“It’s great to be focusing our attention on things that really matter, like our Democracy Conference and mayoral hustings event on 1 June, where we will have loads of local disabled people quizzing the new mayoral candidates.”

Neither Tower Hamlets council nor POhWER were able to comment in time for the DNS deadline.

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