NSPCC to step down as provider of CSA inquiry’s helpline

Children’s charity decides against bidding for £1m contract after criticism of service

By Tim Wood | 12 May 2016

“There are literally thousands of people who are coming forward, and it is going to take the inquiry some time to process all the information”
– John Cameron, head of helplines, NSPCC

Children’s charity NSPCC is to stop providing the helpline service for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse.

The helpline service attracted strong criticism from some survivors of child sex abuse (CSA) when it started last July, a year after the home secretary, Theresa May, announced the inquiry in Parliament.

Esther Baker, a complainant in a large CSA investigation by police, said: “The people on the helpline did not know how to deal with survivors. They were just given a script.”

A month after the helpline launched, the inquiry announced that it would put the contract to run the service out to tender. The inquiry announcement said: “This procurement process it is likely to take a minimum of 3 months. The NSPCC has been appointed to run the helpline whilst this procurement process takes place.”

The £1 million contract to run the helpline, which provides information about the inquiry to the public and how to engage with it, was to be put out to tender last September. But the tendering process has been bogged down by delays.

An inquiry spokeswoman told Exaro that the procurement process “is reaching its final stages.”

The formal invitation for bids went out in January. The tender documents said that the contract, to cover three years from April 2016, is worth £800,000-£950,000, with an option to extend until December 2020.

The NSPCC decided not to bid. John Cameron, head of helplines for the NSPCC, said: “This was always a temporary holding position for the NSPCC. We were running it as an initial start-up to help the inquiry.

“They wanted an immediate telephone support service, and we stepped in to help. It was right and proper that they came to an organisation that could immediately switch on a service that had the appropriate safeguarding experience.”

Asked why the NSPCC did not bid for the contract long-term, he said: “We are first and foremost a children’s charity.”

“The focus of the inquiry is working with adults who have been victims of child sexual abuse. There are a lot of other agencies out there who are well established, who offer this type of support to adults. For NSPCC, this is about us trying to focus our resources on children who are currently at risk. Where necessary and where urgent assistance is required we will of course help other people.”

He defended the helpline run so far by the NSPCC from criticism, saying: “We have had a lot of contact from the public, and we have passed that vital information to the inquiry. I am satisfied that the information that we have passed to the inquiry is being responded to appropriately.”

Criticism was mainly because of a lack of understanding of the job of the helpline service, he said.

“There are literally thousands of people who are coming forward, and it is going to take the inquiry some time to process all the information. Understandably, people get very frustrated that information is not being acted on immediately.

“Also we have people coming through to us who have a certain perception of what the helpline will do. Our role is to liaise with the inquiry, and also the police on occasion. What we provide is emotional support on the phone, and giving advice on how to cope and directing people to resources if available. Often all they want is a listening ear, which we have been happy to provide.”

Meanwhile, the inquiry is bolstering its public-relations team – from one person to three people.

It has just taken on a new head of communications, Bron Madson, who was press secretary to Alan Johnson for most of his cabinet career – including his year as home secretary. She has also been director of communications at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and head of corporate news at the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The inquiry, which is due to hold a second round of preliminary hearings in July, is also seeking a chief press officer, on a salary of up to £61,745 a year, and another press officer, on up to £48,595pa.

Scotland Yard, meanwhile, is continuing a series of investigations into alleged cover-ups of CSA by VIPs under one operation.

Related Stories: Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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