A disability charity’s decision to close down a national advice organisation, just two years after they merged, has provoked anger among disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
Scope merged in 2008 with DIAL UK, a long-established DPO which supports a network of about 120 local disability information and advice services, most of them user-led.
But Scope has now decided to close DIAL UK next month, and make redundant its four paid staff – all of whom are disabled or have health conditions.
Scope says it wants to improve support to members of the network of local DIAL (Disability Information and Advice Line) services by employing four new regional support workers as part of its own Scope Response information service.
None of the four existing members of DIAL UK staff, all based in Doncaster, were successful in applying for the new posts.
Tony Kay, manager of Calderdale DART, a member of the DIAL network, said the closure of DIAL UK proved the “merger” with Scope was really a “takeover”.
He has received emails from a string of DIAL groups which he said were “even more vocal in their objection” to Scope’s decision to close DIAL UK than he was.
He praised the knowledge, understanding and expertise of DIAL UK’s staff, and added: “Our affiliation has always been with DIAL UK and if this is to be lost due to the enforced restructuring, then I feel we may need to look elsewhere for support as we do not feel it would be appropriate to be affiliated to Scope given their current remit and how they have let down the staff of DIAL UK.”
Other local groups have contacted DIAL UK through phone calls, emails and letters to express their unhappiness with the closure decision, which now threatens Scope’s efforts to build a closer relationship with the disability movement.
Jane Thompson-Brierley, head of DIAL UK, who has been working for the organisation for more than nine years, said it had been a “very difficult time” for the staff and five volunteers.
She said: “We were an organisation run by disabled people for disabled people. That was one of the things we always prided ourselves on.
“I have always thought we have been in tune with the disabled people’s movement, and obviously through our members our role has always been about providing that support to local groups.”
She said DIAL UK had provided groups with information and resources, but also helped them to “develop and thrive”.
She questioned how the new structure could provide the same support offered by DIAL UK, which has been praised by local groups for the high quality of the information it provides.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said she feared Scope would use the restructuring to make it easier to win contracts at the expense of local DPOs.
She said: “DPOs are just going to be cut out. That is the main concern. They thought it was a merger but since then it has become apparent it was a complete takeover. It is going to be an enormous loss.”
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said his organisation was trying to clarify the concerns that have been raised by disabled people about the decision to close DIAL UK.
But he added: “If the issues being raised are true then obviously we will engage in dialogue with Scope to try and understand the situation better and maybe direct a different outcome.”
A Scope spokesman said the intention was “not to compete with local DIAL groups”, and added: “If Scope knows a DIAL group is going for funding, it will not compete with it.”
Ruth Sutherland, executive director of services for Scope, said: “We are working hard to build a stronger relationship with independent DIAL groups.
“There are some back office changes – but these won’t affect the support DIAL groups receive from Scope to help them provide vital information and advice to disabled people.
“Currently the DIAL groups are supported by a small UK team based in Doncaster. The plan is to move that support closer to the local groups by creating regional support roles.
“At the same time we are creating a new knowledge and learning directorate in Scope, which will ensure that expertise in information and advice – both from the local groups and from Scope’s services – can be retained, developed and shared throughout the network.”
19 October 2011