Apr 272016
 

Governance failures

charities02-opinionI’ve already noted all is not well at Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD): the Chief Executive and the Head of HR left at no notice. (LCD’s PR team told a Third Sector magazine journalist that Pelham would stay on until replaced, but now LCD refute having said any such thing.) Now the Interim Chief Executive has announced that she’s leaving LCD too as soon as LCD appoints a new CEO (anticipated in September / October.)

We now know why this is happening: LCD have a £750,000 hole in their budget for the year. (They primarily blame the National “Living” Wage for this; though we know that they did precious little to prepare for the increased wage bill – and what they did claim to do was proven to be a lie.) The new Chair of the Trustees has conducted exit interviews of senior staff, whom have been very forthright about Clare Pelham. It is widely acknowledged that Clare was only motivated by the wish to become “Lady Pelham”. LCD have lost industry confidence due to pervasive doubts about their governance – a large consultancy decided not to bid for a contract valued at £200,000 per year due to their significant concerns about LCD’s management competence.

The senior directors aren’t any loss; but the other staff LCD’s making redundant most definitely are – both in the homes they are closing and elsewhere.

In earlier years, LCD had a reasonably successful “Service User Support Team” (SUST). These disabled employees worked as facilitators and mentors throughout the UK, tasked with empowering service users to achieve greater independence. This had some moderate success. As one (charming) resident in a LCD care home put it:

Every time I see a cabbage it reminds me that I could still have been in the cabbage patch myself, if I hadn’t been persuaded that there was a life for me outside.

Leonard Cheshire obviously couldn’t let a moderately successful user empowerment project stay unmolested, so they attempted to shut it down. There was an outcry, so in the end LCD just got rid of most of the employees, leaving a vestigial staff of 14 isolated disabled people dotted round the country, in the renamed “Customer Support Team” (CST). Each part-time staff member was charged with single-handedly empowering hundreds of care home residents and domiciliary care service users across their (massive) patch. Despite being manifestly overstretched and under resourced, they made a genuine difference to disabled people’s lives, because these workers genuinely cared about the rights of Leonard Cheshire’s service users.

Disabled user empowerment workers made redundant

"And when we want your opinion, we'll tell you what it is!" - "Federation of Charities for the Disabled"Leonard Cheshire are annihilating them. LCD has cut the Customer Support Team budget from £450,000 to £0,000 overnight. LCD is starting a sham “consultation” on 9th May (a bit like their sham “consultation” on the closure of Honresfeld home) but as there is no money, it is pretty clear that LCD will make all CST staff redundant. (Some have already announced their redundancy.)

The reason LCD gave for this budget cut is that its trustees took so long to consider the team’s future (over 5 months) that its budget for 2016/17 was still undecided come April 1st. That would be bad enough if it was genuine; however I note that £450,000 p.a. is a significant saving towards the £750,000 deficit, and I suspect this is the real reason. Meanwhile the “consultation” can’t start until 9th May because Mark Elliott (Leonard Cheshire’s non-disabled Director of Development) is on a multi-week holiday in South Africa. (Good of him to check everything was A-OK with his team before swanning off [not] – perhaps he should bugger off permanently like Clare Pelham [CEO] and Vicki Hemming [HR director.])

Leonard Cheshire hasn’t told its own service users about this. Senior staff are discouraging the CST from telling us, which puts the employees in an invidious position – do they risk their references by telling service users their empowerment service is being given the boot? The CST’s dedicated team of disabled people already have to cope with being told at three weeks notice that there’s no budget for their wages, forcing them to seek employment elsewhere with great urgency (and we know disabled people experience many barriers when seeking employment, even at the best of times.) In the meantime, LCD are refusing to answer any questions about the situation (from anybody, including from the CST) until the “consultation” process starts.

The Customer Action Network, a user-led organisation attempting to provide representation of LCD service users despite continual interference and undermining by LCD, wants to start a petition to save the CST – but is being asked to delay this until the CST are under formal review. I’m glad to say the Network sent it out anyway – the petition is here.

That’s how LCD are treating the dedicated, hard-working and caring disabled people who (until now) did their best to empower LCD service users despite inadequate resources and lack of support. (i.e. those whom actually attempted the user empowerment for which LCD claims credit.)

Where their priorities really lie…

LCD have four directors who each earn between £100,000 and £150,000 per year, between them earning the equivalent of the Customer Support Team’s  entire budget. The Customer Support Team are the only posts in the charity ring-fenced for disabled people. They’re the only posts specifically aimed at empowering service users.

I think LCD’s treatment of the CST and of Honresfeld residents and staff proves that LCD’s claim to be focussed on disabled people’s rights is as hollow as so many people have said for years.

(With thanks to the excellent Crippen / Dave Lupton Cartoons for both cartoons on this page, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.)

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