Getting heard: Green Party raises WorkBC contracts in House

Board Voice and other allies who have raised major concerns with the Work BC procurement process continue to be heard by BC political leaders. Here’s Green Party leader Andrew Weaver bringing up the issue in Question Period yesterday (March 4) after connecting with one of our member organizations about the worrying developments evident in this procurement.

It’s not likely that there will be any changes to the coming contracts, which take effect April 1, but it remains extremely important that we continue to examine what just happened, why it happened, and what happens as a result of them in our communities. Board Voice is striking a small working group to do that, as we remain very concerned that the stage has been set – intentionally or otherwise –  for international for-profit companies to increase their profile in the delivery of social health services in BC.

Here are links to two pieces on this issue by BC journalist Andrew MacLeod, legislative bureau chief for The Tyee: Jan 31 story; Feb 18 story.

Andrew Weaver: Work B.C. awards contracts for a number of services across B.C. and has a long relationship with non-profit organizations that help British Columbians find work. However, Work B.C.’s procurement process lacks rigour and transparency.

Last year major regions were amalgamated to larger catchment areas for services. The change came with little warning to the service providers and resulted in many local organizes no longer being able to compete. The RFPs that went out were heavily biased towards bigger organizations, often for-profit companies based outside of B.C. with no connection to the local communities, and no points awarded for community connection or knowledge.

Consolidating major services like this means that local non-profits cannot compete and more multinational companies are hired to do the same work, and so public dollars don’t stay in B.C.

My question is to the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction: Why was such a substantial change sprung on B.C. non-profit service providers with no public consultation when nothing in previous evaluations indicated that the change was necessary?

Hon. Shane Simpson: I thank the member for the question. In fact, the changes that we’ve made around Work BC are changes that will put more money than ever into this system. We’ve had, over the last number of years, about $230 million annually that’s been invested in Work BC. Under this model, $249 million will go into Work BC centres. We will increase the number of centres from 84 to 103 across the province. In addition to that, there are two new provincial programs around assistive technology and apprenticeship services that are now supporting initiatives across the province.

In terms of how those contracts were let, you’ll know the procurement process is one that, as a minister, I don’t get involved directly in. I would say to the member, though, that in terms of how the resources got allocated…. Under the previous program, the one we’re under now, 49 per cent of the money went to the profit-making companies and 49 percent went to non-profits. Under the new system, 57 per cent of the dollars will go to non-profits, 39 per cent to the profit sector and 4 per cent to a public institution [Douglas College]. We’ll be watching this moving forward, but we think we’ve found the balance.

Andrew Weaver: In fact, I’m interested to hear that the minister suggests that the balance has been found. You know, it’s ironic that this government is actually increasing unemployment through its Work B.C. contracts as communities across B.C. lose their non-profits. So to think that the balance has been found…. If the balance that has been found is increasing unemployment and money going to multinationals, I would suggest that the minister may want to have a look at his file a little closer.

This year’s bidding rounds for Work BC contracts no longer require bidders to demonstrate a flow-through to community organizations. Previously, at least 25 percent of the public money was required to flow out to other local organizations. The removal of that requirement has shattered the collaborative networks that provided multiple social care services, some of which have been in place for 30 years or more. The statistics we heard from the minister are simply not accurate, because they do not reflect the 25 percent of money that is no longer required to flow through.

Local non-profits have community connections and must reinvest any profit they achieve. Major for-profit multinationals lack community connections and do not have to locally reinvest profits. Government is now using public dollars to connect international companies that have no on-the-ground service to the local communities in our province to provide those services.

My question, again, is to the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. What was the justification for a process that has no requirement anymore for bidders to demonstrate any flow-through to local community organizations?

Hon. S. Simpson: I thank the member again for the question. In fact, this was a two-step process. It was required, under the request for qualifications, where bidders qualified to go forward to the proposal stage…. There was, in fact, a request for information regarding their connection to community. From that qualification process, up to four bidders were able to go forward in the RFP process for each of the catchment areas. So in fact, what the member has talked about did occur there.

The reality is that what we got told in this process…. I spoke to service providers who said: “We are seeing less people, but the people we’re seeing need more of our time.” So we’ve structured a program here that very much allows those service providers now to deliver extended services so that the people who really need the support, the people who aren’t seeing employment now, have a greater opportunity for that.

It fits in as a critical piece of the poverty reduction strategy that we’ll be moving forward. We’re looking for the opportunity to give persons with disabilities, to support women escaping violence, to support recent immigrants, so that they get opportunities at employment they’re not seeing today.