Complaint against Isle of Wight council lodged by Phoenix Trust after being ‘jerked around’

A charity which provides day care for more than 90 adults with severe, multiple and profound learning disabilities has lodged a formal complaint against the Isle of Wight council after two years of being ‘jerked around’.

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Following OnTheWight’s report last week on the non-sale of former Barton Primary school, the preferred bidder, The Phoenix Trust, have lodged a formal complaint against the Isle of Wight council.

The Trust – which provides day care more than 90 adults with severe, multiple and profound learning disabilities – first approached the Isle of Wight council in 2016 expressing an interest in purchasing the former school site.

Despite several meetings, offers made and evidence being provided to the council, the Trust only learned last week that their offer was to the formally rejected.

Meeting needs of most vulnerable people
On behalf of the Trust, Janet Newton told OnTheWight,

“As a Charitable organisation we are extremely disappointed at our treatment from the Isle of Wight Council. We have repeatedly tried to engage with the Council over the last 28 months, sadly to no avail.

“We are trying to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people on the Island and have been rebuffed at every turn.

“In the grand scheme of things £200,000 is nothing compared to the ongoing costs of putting people into residential provision on or off Island.”

Brodie: No regard for the social value provided by Phoenix Trust
Newport East councillor, Geoff Brodie, told OnTheWight,

“Ever since Phoenix Trust contacted me more than two years ago I have been supportive of them moving into the former Barton site. As the area with the most house building in the last seven years – nearly 500 homes- I was not keen on more building in this densely populated area.

“The previous administration were generally supportive, but it always seemed like officers were dragging their feet.

“Once the leadership changed in early 2017 it was clear that no value would be placed on what Phoenix contribute in terms of social value.

“I have made representations to Cllr Hutchinson against this decision and I would urge him to take into account the social value Phoenix Trust could be offering the Council in terms of its ‘care closer to home’ strategy.”

Was the social value considered?
OnTheWight asked deputy leader and Cabinet member for resources, Cllr Stuart Hutchinson, whether the figure offered by The Phoenix Trust was considered in terms of the value of social care being provided?

He replied,

“Yes, had we not considered that the Trust offered social value we would not have offered preferred purchaser status and we had that in mind throughout the negotiations.”

Taking issue with the report
Speaking on the Delegated Decision report, Ms Newton went on to say,

“I am disappointed that the current report makes no reference to the fact that The Phoenix Project is a Charitable Interest Company and provides day care services for over 90 adults with learning difficulties.”

In response to this, Cllr Hutchinson, told OnTheWight,

“The reasons for the preferred purchaser decision and the details of the charity’s activities were clearly set out in the report of March 2017 as justification for the decision. We didn’t feel it was necessary to reiterate them. The decision to cease preferred purchaser status at this time is being taken at the request of Phoenix Project to bring closure to the process.”

Delay in responding to offer
As Ms Newton explained, the Trust offer of £200,000 in July 2016. She said,

“If that was unacceptable it should have been formally rejected.”

In response to this, Cllr Hutchinson, told OnTheWight,

“I cannot speak for the previous administration but assume that the discussions held from July 2016 and the offer received was unacceptable to them, otherwise there would have been a decision to sell at that point. Phoenix Project asked the interim administration for preferred purchaser status as soon as we took over following the resignations of most of the previous Executive. I granted that status as soon as practicable in March 2017.

“Preferred purchaser status locks out any other potential purchasers while negotiations take place, and commonly is granted to give time for the potential purchaser to put in place the funding needed. It does not imply that an asset will be disposed of either to that purchaser, nor that it will be sold at below valuation.”

12 months for reply to second offer
The Trust then went on to make an offer of £175,000 in July 2017 (to reflect the reduced site available and the deteriorating condition of the building). Once again the question of why it took so long for a formal response was asked.

In response to this, Cllr Hutchinson, told OnTheWight,

“There needed to be sufficient time to obtain independent valuations of the site and it was agreed that each party would prepare their own valuation. The trust’s valuation was even higher than the council’s. On such a high value site it would ordinarily be the case that the purchaser would assemble funding from whatever sources were available to them. The usual course would be mortgage, secured by the value of the asset, provided that the organisation’s income could be shown to sustain repayments. The trust’s accounts and supporting business plan would need to demonstrate that.

“Commonly, charities, when they wish to make such a substantial change, not just of location but from rental to ownership, would embark upon a fundraising drive. I do not know what actions Phoenix Project took in this respect, but they had over two years from initial approach until now. I would have been prepared to extend the time for fundraising had it been likely that a reasonable offer for the site was likely to be forthcoming.

“In respect of this particular site, DfE approval has to be sought for a sale and they, quite rightly, expect that the site value is achieved. In this case that acceptable value was likely to be the lowest of the independent valuations. The offer from Phoenix would have been a loss to the education service of anticipated funding earmarked for other projects.”

Sharing the space
Ms Newton told OnTheWight that the Trust had been in touch with other services to see whether they would interested in sharing the space. Those talks were very positive but did not appear in the report.

She said,

“Whilst the Trust can’t offer full market value, we were clear on this from the outset, we did say we would work with the local and wider community to ensure use of the Barton School buildings, this has not been referenced in the report.

“We also spoke to senior staff from the Learning Disability Service, who were keen to relocate with us. I advised Chris Ashman of this, but again no reference in the report.”

When asked why is there no reference in the report to the Learning Disability Service being keen to relocate with Phoenix Trust, Cllr Hutchinson replied,

“The report is primarily to bring closure not to reiterate issues already considered as part of the process.”

‘Jerked around’ by Conservative administration
She finished by saying,

“On a personal level I am appalled at the way we have been treated, the new administration has been in office since March 2017 and has jerked us around, wasting time effort and money.

“The Council has spent money regarding site security, referenced in the report and for utilities etc, if the answer was always going to be no, this should have been communicated twelve months ago and the building put on the market and / or demolished.”

“Meaningful, transparent and honest investigation”
The Phoenix Trust have called for a “meaningful, transparent and honest investigation” into their formal complaint.

We’ll let you know what the outcome is.

Image: graficmedia under CC BY 2.0

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Thursday, 5th July, 2018 5:42pm

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Filed under: Budget Cuts, Island-wide, Isle of Wight Council, Isle of Wight News, Top story

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4 Comments on "Complaint against Isle of Wight council lodged by Phoenix Trust after being ‘jerked around’"

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I do not believe it
The Phoenix Trust does such extraordinarily valuable work and very much not observed by the public. In the past I have undertaken some voluntary work with some of its clients with severe learning difficulties and I have witnessed the care and dedication of the Trust’s staff members. The Phoenix Trust deserves better treatment from the IW Council. Mind you! The Phoenix Trust is not alone in having… Read more »
micksey009

The IoW Council is a law unto itself invariably at pains to justify what it does or, equally, what it doesn’t do.
It’s a public service and therefore fully accountable to the public. It has an implicit duty to provide ” a meaningful, transparent and honest investigation” into the formal complaint by Phoenix Trust without prevarication. Do I sound like a record?

matt.h

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”- The way the IOW Council is going in terms of serving its most vulnerable people is for the councillors to do nothing.

robiow
I am a relatively recent addition to the Phoenix Project’s Board of Trustees. In regard to the possible purchase of the old Barton School premises to enable our service to expand it seems clear that our offer has been on the table for more than two years now and rather than being rejected we have been ’strung along’ by the IW Council. If any decision was made… Read more »