“Crunch time” for furniture charities

MONTROSE Area Furniture Recycling and Distribution (MAFRAD) has joined forces with two Arbroath charities to bid for an Angus Council supply contract.

The group, along with Furniture Recycling Project Angus and Starter Packs Angus, both based in Arbroath, has formed the Angus Consortium of Recycling Charities.

It had placed a bid the contract to supply a new furniture recycling scheme which was approved last year by Angus councillors.

The new scheme will introduce capped grants and a competitive procurement process to effectively halve the costs to the authority under previous arrangements, using the local furniture recycling charities, which was deemed to be anti-competitive.

The furniture projects were introduced originally to help individuals and families setting up home for the first time.

Under the system, introduced in April 2009, clients were given vouchers worth up to £450 for a single person and £600 per couple setting up home for furniture and household items supplied by MAFRAD and other similar Angus organisations.

In 2009-10 around 390 households were provided with help and annual expenditure was over £135,000.

But the new scheme has called into doubt the future of such organisations.

MAFRAD chairwoman Kathleen Ritchie this week said the bid has been lodged with the council and all three groups in the consortium are now hoping for the best.

She said: “We had a meeting with the Arbroath groups and invited the Forfar one to come in to the consortium but Forfar have decided to go it alone.

“We have always worked closely with Arbroath so it was a natural progression. I’m led to believe there are around 12 organisations interested in the contract and I think they will be taking eight contracts into the equation.

“It has been quite a lot of work and pressure for the organisations and we’re optimistic. They are visiting the Arbroath project on Wednesday and we expect them to come round and visit us. We should know by about March 18 when it will be intimated to people to let them know if they are on the contract list.”

Furniture Recycling project chairman Andrew Dawson said the council estimates that it will have to house 350 households with no furniture or household goods of their own in the coming year, 50 more than it thought in November when the new system was approved.

He commented: “Members of the new consortium have been supplying the council for years. We can kit out the average family at a cost to the council of less than £500. But now we are being asked to compete against firms from across the European Union

“Angus Council seems to want a single supplier, doing the job for half the money.

“The three charities have long been supported by the people of Angus. Rather than throw things away, Angus folk have given us 140 tonnes of furniture and appliances a year. We also get crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, and bed linen for people in need. Between us, the consortium employs 12 people part-time, and gives work experience and on-the-job training to forty volunteers, most of whom are hoping to move on into paid jobs. If we lose the contract, many of these opportunities may go.”

Mrs Ritchie said it is now “crunch time” for all the groups involved and that even if they did make it on to the list of preferred contractors, unless they were high up the list their future could still be in doubt.

She said: “If we’re high on the list we will be functioning for another two years. If we’re not well up the list it won’t be worth keeping going because the people we set out to help we know would be taken care of. We’ve done our best and employ four part time people and 10 volunteers. We’re a very good-going project and recycle about 50 tonnes a year which has been good for the public as it costs them for landfill tax, so we’ve saved council tax money too.

“Now we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”