COUNCIL chiefs have promised the transition of homelessness services in the borough will be “seamless” when they swap to a new provider next year.

It comes after concerns were raised that City West Housing Trust (CWHT), of the ForViva Group, does not have enough experience dealing with the issues of rough-sleeping.

Members of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Labour-controlled cabinet approved a 10-year contract with the organisation worth around £22 million at a meeting on Wednesday.

Currently, homelessness support services are provided by Foundation Enterprises North West (FENW); housing-related support for over 25s comes from Stonham Home Group; support for under 25s is by Forum Housing; and P3 looks after the floating support service.

Under the new model – due to start in April next year – CWHT will be responsible for all four areas of the service.

It is hoped that a single contractor will be able to provide a more efficient and ‘holistic’ approach, preventing people from becoming homeless but also supporting those who find themselves with nowhere to live.

However, Mark Simms, chief executive officer of charity P3, told cabinet members that he had concerns that ForViva did not have the experience of other providers.

He also questioned the tendering process for the new contract, saying ‘third sector’ organisations – which include voluntary organisations and charities – had been excluded.

Cllr Lynn Riley, leader of the Conservative opposition group, also raised several issues while broadly welcoming plans for the new-look service.

Speaking on behalf of the shadow cabinet member for housing, Cllr Helen Weltman, she echoed Mr Simms’ views saying the contract should have gone to open tender.

She also stressed that the transition between providers next April must be seamless so service users continue to receive uninterrupted support.

Cllr Angela Claydon, cabinet member for housing, assured members of the public and opposition group that the tender process had been entirely legal and comprehensive and said work was already underway to ensure a smooth transition.

She also stressed that the new model of homelessness services was the product of an 18 month consultation and had “overwhelming support” from stakeholders, the public, and homeless people themselves.

“There will be a very robust plan of mobilisation when this contact comes in,” she said. “We know it has to be seamless.

“This is an exciting, ambitious and forward-looking vision for tackling homelessness in the borough.”

The new contract will begin from April 2018 when Richmond Court, which is owned by Sanctuary Group and run by FENW, will close as the borough’s main homeless hostel.

CWHT and the council plan to introduce a greater number of smaller, more dispersed properties across Cheshire West and Chester rather than a focus on one larger facility.

Richmond Court was opened in 2014 and has 36 accommodation units and 10 direct access ‘safe seats’ for rough sleepers to use at night.

Part of the new model for homelessness services includes increasing the number of ‘direct access’ emergency beds as well as offering daytime activities for homeless people.

Cllr Claydon said relevant ward councillors had been made aware if one of the dispersed properties was planned for their community.

In a previous report, possible locations of units to replace those provided at Richmond Court included: Milestones in Chester; Wyvern House, Winsford; Crispin House, Chester; The Lymes, Northwich; McGarva Way, Ellesmere Port; and council properties including the Greyhound Stadium in Ellesmere Port.