DAA News Network

UK: Threat to DPOs shown by closing of major organization in Northamptonshire

Posted 04/9-10 at 12.28

The Disabled People's Alliance Northamptonshire (DPAN), which has been run by and championed the rights of disabled people for 16 years, is to close after it lost two major contracts. One has been taken over by a national company not run by disabled people and the other by The Disability Resource Centre, a user-led group from Bedfordshire.

Stephen Lee Hodgkins, Director of Disability Lib, the alliance of organisations that supports DPOs to develop their capacity, says what has happened in Northamptonshire reflected the fact that the situation was worsening for DPOs throughout the country.

He said: ‘This is contrary to government policy, and shortsighted by the Northamptonshire authorities. While the personalisation agenda creates opportunities for growth in user-led services of disabled people, commissioning often overlooks the added value DPOs bring, as I believe to be the case for DPAN.'

‘Unfortunately DPOs can't sit back and think they're going to be safe as public sector cuts loom. They need to make sure that they have strategies and know who are their competitors and allies.'

Mick Dillon, DRC's chief executive and a wheelchair-user, said that DRC was ‘user-led at every level of the organisation'. Furthermore, the new CIL had established a board of service-users to ‘act as our watchdog'.

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.'

John Smith, DPAN's coordinator, 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....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].



Editorial comment: This is an extremely serious issue for disabled people in the UK, especially as draconian budget cuts will tend to benefit national companies who can spread their overhead costs over more projects than local DPOs can. At the same time, local authorities pressed to reduce expenditure will be looking for the cheapest options.

What is perhaps more worrying is the aggressive competition from outside user-led organisations. Although DRC may be user-led and fronted by a disabled person, it is clearly not controlled by disabled people. On their website they say only that it, ‘has disabled people at the centreof its decision making.'

DAA believes that because of disabled people's long history of being done for and done to it is essential that we defend the organisations that have given us such a strong, positive and distinctive voice and that we have struggled so hard to build. However, as the events in Northamptonshire show, in the current economic and political climate this is going to be an increasingly difficult task.




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