Dering Interview on File on Four (BBC Radio 4)

Transcript kindly provided by Claire of Team Hado.

File on Four

Part of a programme looking more widely and whether charities be trusted to run public services well and honestly?

Dering section – 11.40

While the impact of reorganisation is troubling some volunteers, what concerns many managers of charities is the future financing of public sector contracts. They worry that, while they might be about to get a bigger slice of the cake, the cake itself is shrinking rapidly under the Chancellor’s cuts, and there’s real anxiety amongst smaller groups that they may face severe financial pressure from the way public sector contracts are awarded.

In Croydon, to the south of London, one enterprising provider of services has just gone under. Dering Employment Services is being liquidated. It was set up 5 years ago by Stephen Dering using his own savings, with the aim of helping other deaf people get into jobs. Its turnover was comparatively small – about 1.3 million pounds. This summer it ran out of money while chasing payments from a large charity which specialises in employment support and works on huge contracts for the government. For Stephen Dering it’s a sad end to a service for people who can find Job Centres
difficult to negotiate.

SD – We’ve supported over 500 who have had a job or retained a job because of the work we were putting in, and we supported over 250 into training.

Int – And what sort of jobs have you been able to get deaf people into?

SD – A lot of retail jobs – Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Poundland. A lot of people went into council admin jobs, cleaning, driving, work in a factory – a whole range.

Int – So, you made 500 people employable, who would not otherwise have been employable?

SD – Yes. But what you also need to remember is that those 500 may well have a family, they may have children, so it has had an impact not just on the individual but on their family, their children.

Narrator – As a sub-contractor, Stephen Dering was reliant on timely payments from one prime contractor working for the government – the Shaw Trust, the country’s largest provider supporting people with disabilities into employment. It accounted for about half of Stephen Dering’s annual business. He’s told File on Four that over the past 2 years, he’s frequently had to chase up payments that were overdue, sometimes by many months, even, he says, as long as a year. The liquidator for his company has shown us documents showing the amount owed by the Shaw Trust at £43,000. It’s the biggest single item by far.

SD – I actually went back in February of this year and handed over a thick pack of invoices because we weren’t getting paid, and that was just one example of how I’ve had to go over from London to Birmingham to hand those over in person those invoices. And we still haven’t been paid for those invoices.

Int – The Shaw Trust say that you have been slack in your invoicing and that there have been flaws in the paperwork and that this accounts for some of the delays that you are complaining about. Are you absolutely telling me that you have been rigorous in your invoicing?

SD – Yes, I am. We sent the invoices by paper and by email.

Narrator – Stephen Dering’s complaint is not accepted by the Shaw Trust, which prides itself on running a vital national service with a 100 million pound a year turnover. It also prides itself on dealing fairly with its sub-contractors. It’s just launched a new government work programme called Work Choice, in which it has enlisted 50 smaller organisations as its supply chain for a 5 year contract worth well over 200 million pounds. The chief executive, Sally Burton, denies any responsibility for the demise of Dering Employment Services.

SB – We are very sympathetic to the situation Stephen Dering finds himself in. Mr Dering isn’t right though to say that we’ve made late payments consistently. We work for government; all our funding comes through government in these employment contracts and it’s very clear that we can only receive the payment when the evidence has been produced of the activity that’s been undertaken, and critically, of the outcome for the customer. We’d have no reason whatsoever to avoid making payments that were legitimate claims to any of our sub-contractors.

Int – You might have no reason, but he’s saying it’s happened. He’s saying, for instance, that he’s had, himself, to deliver copy invoices and other evidence by taking a trip to Birmingham in order to put the invoices in your hands.

SB – I am aware of a number of the things that Stephen Dering has said and we have had a very thorough internal review of our procedures and our policies to ensure that we are not disadvantaging any smaller organisations. There have been a few occasions where we have made payments a few days later than we would have liked to.

Int – Well, he’s not talking about few days, he’s talking about up to a year.

SB – We’ve been looking at our figures over the last week and we don’t believe we owe £43,000 and we believe that our figure that may still be outstanding is more in the region of £15,000.

Int – So you do accept that you owe him something, the question is how much?

SB – The money he’s owed now could not be paid earlier, because we didn’t have the evidence. We’ve been working with, or seeking to work through the liquidator to make those payments.

Narrator – While liquidation proceedings continue, we’re unable to discover who is right in this disagreement, but we have learned that it illustrated a widespread area of conflict between some of the other giant organisations which act as contractors of public services, and the host of smaller sub-contractors who provide many of the services.