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Benevolent Society to Take Over NSW Govt Disability Support Services

2 March 2017 at 3:41 pm
Lina Caneva
Australia’s oldest charity, The Benevolent Society, has been chosen to operate the NSW government’s specialist disability support services – described as Australia’s largest provider of clinical services for people with disability.

Lina Caneva | 2 March 2017 at 3:41 pm


Benevolent Society to Take Over NSW Govt Disability Support Services
2 March 2017 at 3:41 pm

Australia’s oldest charity, The Benevolent Society, has been chosen to operate the NSW government’s specialist disability support services – described as Australia’s largest provider of clinical services for people with disability.

The major win for the charity will see the organisation double its workforce and operations.

The NSW Minister for Disability Services Ray Williams made the announcement of the new provider for disability clinical services (which are currently part of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services) on Thursday.

The Benevolent Society CEO Jo Toohey said the significant move “demonstrated that a not-for-profit organisation can remain competitive and true to mission in an increasingly commercial environment.”

“This is a once in a generation opportunity. We have always been at the forefront of change and strive to lead through innovation as we continue to grow,” Toohey said

“[The government’s] disability support service was the largest provider of clinical services in Australia for people with disability and we aim to leverage this into a centre of excellence for clinical services in the community. We want to be held up as a model of great practice and leadership.

“NSW is also the largest market for disability services, helping 95,000 clients per annum receiving support through state funded programs.”

Toohey described the deal as a merger that would double the charity’s annual revenue.  

“It will see The Benevolent Society take on approximately 7,000 clients and 700 staff, from the government’s specialist disability services, to create one major service,” she told Pro Bono News.

“[This] will create a much stronger Benevolent Society and enable us to increase accessibility to services for more Australians.

“The transition of community services funding directly to recipients through the NDIS and consumer directed care will continue to attract new private and international organisations so we need to remain competitive and relevant to our customers.

“Many NFPs will find this difficult, but we have set firm goals around social outcomes underpinned by an ambitious growth target and commitment to innovation.”

The NSW government agreed to remove itself from direct disability services as part of its agreement with the Commonwealth around the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“This has been known by the sector for perhaps two or three years… All the services went out to the market in May 2016 and we went through an expression of interest process and then to a binding proposal process in December,” Toohey said.

“We have been successful in taking on the clinical services component of the transfer.

“In terms of how it is going to work we have five months to transfer over the existing clinical services across to The Benevolent Society. So what essentially is coming over to us is 700 staff around 7,000 clients and they currently operate in about 46 communities and locations across NSW.

“Probably a third of those we have synergy with in terms of location, so it will be a co-location piece but obviously for the rest it’s about actually establishing a new presence in new areas. And also the consolidation of a few properties particularly in the Sydney metropolitan space.”

Toohey said there were four main areas of transition.

“The first one is ensuring that we maintain continuity of service delivery because we don’t want clients to feel any disruption whatsoever during the workforce transfer that will happen on August 1st,” she said.

“Secondly we are positioning this both internally and externally as two organisations coming together…as a merger. It is not a take-over or an acquisition. We see it as two great things coming together. And obviously the property piece is going to be a big part of the work but also the data migration including setting up all the new systems.”

She said the transition costs were being provided by The Benevolent Society.

“We made the commitment very early on when we first did our strategy last year and we talked about our growth across Australia… recognising that we needed to provide the resources that were needed to make sure we could do it well and that we had the capacity as an organisation to also do that,” Toohey said.

“We have a dedicated transition team for example… so that’s a really important piece for us during any sort of acquisitional merger.

“We are also at a point in our strategy where there is a whole lot of other activity going on, so we don’t want to disrupt any of our business-as-usual or strategic work in our organisation by this major transfer either.”

Toohey said that the NSW government didn’t fund NFPs to provide the services, they had the clinical services team themselves who were in effect employed as public servants.

Clinical services comprises staff who are case managers, psychologists, behaviour support practitioners, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists working in multidisciplinary teams.

“We have got a massive workforce transition and cultural integration plan so we have a lot of work we are going to do in that area,” she said.

“I am hoping that the staff are going to be excited about. I think that they have been working in an environment where they have been doing great care every day but they have been living under this umbrella that the government was going to transfer them out. I am hoping that now there is certainty the staff are going to be really excited by it,” Toohey said.

“What we are looking forward to is the fact that this just continues to strengthen our internal capabilities in this space. When we had a look at the opportunity and asked where do we want to be positioned in five to 10 years, not just in disability but also what does bringing this capability into the organisation actually do in our work in child and family and our work in aging, we saw the opportunities that this presented as enormous for the organisation.”

Toohey said the message for the not-for-profit the sector was that “these opportunities are not just for the for-profits and the not-for-profit organisations should be looking to see if these opportunities come up who can they collaborate with”.

“We do have to work in a much more commercially responsible way if we are actually going to continue to compete,” she said.

“And when we compete in these sorts of large scale acquisition environments we are competing with the best of the for-profits. So our value proposition can’t be the great work we do everyday it has to also be make good commercial sense for the government.”

She said the government’s transfer of group homes and respite services were also happening at the same time.

“I’d expect an announcement around those in the next month.”

The Benevolent Society was founded by newspaper editor and bank Edward Smith Hall in 1813.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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