Ipswich pound contract renewed with RSPCA QLD - and why you should care.

September 14, 2016

Through an RTI (FOI) I've accessed the decision documents surrounding Ipswich pound. But first a little history.

At the end of 2011, the City of Ipswich had a problem. Their pound was killing practically everything that walked through the doors. When the public found out and took them to task, Ipswich found an ingenious way to take the public attention away from their terrible effort at managing the community’s pets. They engaged the Animal Welfare League Queensland (AWLQ) to take over running their crapped out, killy pound.

The AWLQ then got to doing what they did best – saving lives. Regardless of the old facilities and the lack of any council initiated programs to reduce intakes in place, they got in, rolled up their sleeves and the results were dramatic;

“... The AWLQ have a commitment to the animals of the Ipswich community and will continue to do so. In just 18 months we have already accomplished zero euthanasia of healthy and sociable animals, set up education programs and subsidised desexing programs which resulted in 500 cats being desexed..."

Now, you’d think the Ipswich Council would have been celebrating the fantastic success. However never underestimate the ineptitude of local government.In 2013, amid allegations of animal neglect by a former volunteer, AWLQ staff were frog-marched out of the Ipswich shelter and the RSPCA QLD took over the running of the facility for several weeks.

These claims were investigated by the RSPCA QLD and were never confirmed, nor any charges laid. An internal audit by council saw the AWLQ reinstated after the Mayor stepped in to lend support to their organisation.

So to wrap up: a high-kill council pound fluffs the newly established relationship with their third-party operators and a massive hoo-haa ensues. Everything gets righted again. End scene. 

Fast forward to May this year and the Ipswich Council puts out the call for new operators to run the pound. Nothing really out of the ordinary, and nine times out of ten these events result in the existing operators staying put.

(It's worth noting that in the five years since the AWLQ took over the pound, they have been left with the same crapped out facilities as they moved into; struggling daily with facilities which proved an obstacle to disease control and staff satisfaction. Despite these challenges, the organisation has maintained an at least 85% save rate for the City. A far cry from the days when everything that came through the door, left in a black, tip bag.)

According to the tender decision documents, two organisations applied to run the pound. The AWLQ as resident operators and the RSPCA QLD as potentially new operators.

Both organisations quoted around $2 million dollars to operate the pound for 12 months; AWLQ ($2.1M) RSPCA QLD ($2.1M)The RSPCA QLD also asked for a $100,000 once-off set up fee to become established in Ipswich. Free money.

Also, if the council do not build a new pound facility within the three year contract period with the RSPCA QLD an additional $200,000 penalty applies. More free money.

So on the issue of cost, the AWLQ came out the winner, if only because giving away $300,000 free money that could be spent on pet care for the community's animals is stupid.

But in this process, "cost" only accounted for 35% of the decision weighting.

When the decision was put to a panel of three (yes, just three) council representatives;

  • ‍On the provision of "animal management services" AWLQ averaged 7.3 (out of ten rating), RSPCA QLD averaged 8.7.
  • On the provision of "support services" AWLQ averaged 7.0, RSPCA QLD averaged 8.3.
  • On the assessment of "reputation and culture" AWLQ averaged 7.3, RSPCA QLD averaged 8.3.
  • For a total of (after weightings): AWLQ - 8.05 RSPCA - 8.87

And that's how AWLQ lost the tender to the RSPCA QLD

Now for the 'why you should care', bit.

Every pet lover in every community should want there to be multiple agencies available to run their pound. When they're big pounds like Ipswich, there are only a few agencies - like in this case, two - who even have the capability to do this work.

Before his departure, Graeme Smith of the Lost Dogs Home saw the financial benefit of, and made a multi-million dollar business from, collecting multiple pound tenders. He started in Victoria, at one stage amassing more than 20 local councils. Then he spread towards NSW. Then he kicked the AWLQ out of Brisbane.

How? By not only being able to drill down on price simply by the size of his organisation; but also by being able to generate massive and sophisticated donation strategies to absorb any short-term losses. His business model was sucking resources from all around whatever city his organsation was based in.

It's not about the pound contract, it's about the donations.

When the LDH went into Brisbane from an animal outcomes perspective it all went to shit. As you would have expected with Smith at the helm. And by the release of some RTI documents and sympathetic media pieces generating community backlash, the LDH were driven back across the border.

But what does being pushed out of a high-capacity pound like Brisbane do to an organisation like the AWLQ who doesn't have a fortune amassed to be able to move from city to city chasing donors?

Well, it shits on it. It makes the already horrendously difficult job of running an animal charity so much more difficult as you fire, hire and relocate to the demands of councils.

Now, of course, this is the industry they choose to be in, and being "competitive" is just part of the game. But when you see the decision can be made to change pound operators in such a fickle way as in Ipswich, you can see why those organisations with fat sacks of cash can, and will, dominate.

If I were a resident in Ipswich, I wouldn't be worried that the RSPCA QLD taking over will cause issues with immediate pet outcomes. I think they'll remain comparable, and if the new $5 million dollar pound is built may even improve on being already pretty good.

I'd be worried because the AWLQ is unlikely to ever want to go near Ipswich Council again. And having seen how appallingly the AWLQ has been treated all this time, neither will anyone else.

So you're stuck with the RSPCA QLD for the foreseeable. For the sake of the pets, I hope it all works out.

How the media reported on it

"AFTER five years serving Ipswich, the animal welfare organisation running the local pound and rehoming centre has lost the contract. 

The council has awarded the job to RSPCA Queensland instead, after it tendered to do the work for less…

Before going to tender, the council offered to extend Animal Welfare League's contract, which they declined. 

"AWLQ encouraged us to go to the open market," Cr Sheila Ireland, Health and Communities Safety portfolio holder, said. 

"They said they couldn't continue under the same fees in the contract.

The RSPCA came in lower and the council made a decision based on budgetary considerations. RSPCA CEO Mark Townend said some of the facilities, including the cat area and the dog cages, would need to be immediately renovated to meet RSPCA standards. He said having new, improved facilities would attract quality staff which is part of the reason his organisation requested a new building. 

"We asked the council to consider building a new facility because it helps attract professionals such as vets," Mr Townend said. "If we put workers in an older facility things tend to go backwards and we want to improve conditions." 



Saving Pets - http://archive.savingpets.com.au/?s=ipswich&submit

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