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Unsuccessful homeless consortium disputes Govt’s claims over tender ‘error’

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The leader of an unsuccessful tender group for Adelaide CBD homeless services has challenged a minister’s claim that the government informed him about an “error” in a tender document which overstated the number of crisis beds in the system, with the matter now referred to the Auditor-General for review.

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On Thursday, a new group of homelessness organisations led by Lutheran Care took responsibility for providing crisis beds in the Adelaide South region after winning a two-year government contract as part of sector-wide reforms to homelessness services.

Their successful tender came at the expense of a consortium led by Uniting Communities and including Catherine House and Vinnies SA, which proposed to fund 106 crisis beds.

Lutheran Care says its group is funding 96 crisis beds in the Adelaide South area and the number of beds in the region “remain(s) unchanged”.

Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink has also repeatedly stated no crisis beds will be lost as a result of the reforms.

But tender specification documents from The South Australian Housing Authority (SAHA) list 116 crisis beds in the system in the 2020-21 financial year – 20 more than the Lutheran Care-led alliance is funding in the new system.

A South Australian Housing Authority breakdown of crisis beds funded in the Adelaide South region in 2020-21, which the Housing Authority now says is in an error.

The specifications of the tender state: “The (South Australian Housing) Authority intends that the number of beds/accommodation available to sector clients be maintained.”

Following inquiries from InDaily to Lensink’s office last week about the discrepancy, it emerged that SAHA believed it had made an error in counting existing crisis beds, with the number of crisis beds funded last financial year revised down to 95 from 116.

Lensink told ABC Radio on Friday that “my understanding is that the number that was printed in the tender document wasn’t actually correct”, while Lutheran Care CEO Rohan Feegrade said the “misprint” was due to the Housing Authority incorrectly counting 21 Salvation Army long-term housing beds as crisis beds.

The human services minister said her understanding was “the lead of [the unsuccessful] organisations were made aware of the fact that that was an incorrect error”.

But Uniting Communities CEO Simon Schrapel, the leader of the unsuccessful alliance, disputes this.

Speaking publicly about the matter for the first time, Schrapel said his tendering group was “very clear” about the need to maintain the 116 crisis beds listed in the tender specifications.

“As the lead agency for the unsuccessful consortium, we remained very clear about the expectations of meeting accommodation and housing requirements set by the South Australian Housing Authority which had been articulated in the documentation provided and were not changed through the process,” Schrapel said.

“Given the matter is now before the Auditor-General, we believe this is the appropriate avenue to clarify any probity issues being raised publicly about the process and outcome.”

Shadow Human Services Minister Nat Cook referred the matter to the Auditor-General Andrew Richardson on Friday.

In a letter to the AG, she wrote: “The Minister for Human Services … claimed that all participants in the tender process were aware of both the error and the true number of beds that formed a material requirement in bidding for the contract.”

“This claim appears highly unusual given the SA Housing Authority published multiple amendments, addenda and variations to the tender documents (in addition to publishing answers to questions) throughout the tender period but the table regarding accommodation remained unchanged.”

In response to Cook’s referral on Friday, Lensink said in a statement that “all tenderers had access to the same information”.

“Labor continue to get their facts wrong,” she said.

“Crisis bed numbers remain the same and people will get to get the support they need, when they need it.”

A spokesperson for the SAHA confirmed to InDaily last week the 116 crisis beds figure listed in the tender specifications was not corrected.

“The tender document was not updated,” a SAHA spokesperson said.

“But the consortia in the Adelaide South region were advised on 19 January via the tenders clarification register.”

The tenders clarification register contains responses from SAHA to questions from tender applicants during the procurement process.

The SAHA’s responses on January 19, seen by InDaily, contain no reference to “116”, “95”, “crisis beds” or any “error” or “mistake” made by the Housing Authority in calculating the number of crisis beds in the system.

The register does note that “actual property numbers vary regularly due to maintenance and other issues and therefore point in time numbers are not provided as part of the tender specification”.

“The accommodation tables should be used as a guide to the level of accommodation services historically offered in the region to help inform the development of a service network which is responsive to need,” the SAHA told consortia on January 19.

“Some of the currently contracted accommodation services include assets that are not owned by the South Australia Housing Trust … and therefore will not form part of the Alliance’s contracted accommodation services moving forward, unless the consortia elect to contribute additional assets as part of their tender response.

“The accommodation utilised by the Towards Independence Service (the Salvation Army) is not owned by the South Australian Housing Trust.”

The register also contained a link to the service agreement between the Salvation Army and the Housing Authority.

The scrutiny over the tender process comes after the winning group reached a series of agreements with members of the losing alliance to fund beds at existing crisis centres.

The Lutheran Care-led group reached an agreement with Vinnies SA last Monday to subcontract 40 crisis beds from the Whitmore Square Men’s Crisis Centre.

The winning alliance also made a similar agreement with Catherine House, who provide women’s crisis accommodation, with a three month transition process underway for 16 women to move into the new service.

Simon Schrapel said Uniting Communities was still committed to the “ongoing delivery of a broad range of services aimed at responding to and preventing homelessness in South Australia”.

“Our focus remains on ensuring these services continue to deliver for the best interests of South Australians at risk of homelessness,” he said.

“We also continue to support the transition to any new homelessness services in South Australia through our various roles in operating specialist homelessness services including the Statewide Homeless Connect Service which works with all SA Homelessness providers.”

The new homelessness services model is due to run until June 20, 2023, after which it will be assessed for two-year renewal.

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