This is a blog post about my negative experience with Fife Voluntary Action (FVA) when trying to access a small amount of money through their Creative Breaks Fund as an unpaid carer.
Because I wouldn’t jump through their hoops I contend that I was subject to unfair treatment, patronised and personally berated by the CEO who took the opportunity to put me in my place. To give me a telling off.
[I used to be a Board member of CVS Fife in 1999/2000, the predecessor of Fife Voluntary Action, when I was a project worker with WRVS in Kirkcaldy and only gave up the position when going to work FT in Perth as a Volunteer Manager with PKAVS at the Gateway, North Methven St.]
“The purpose of the Creative Breaks Grant Programme is to improve the range, choice and availability of short breaks so that carers and the people they care for have a better quality of life, and feel better supported in their caring relationship.”
I completed a 7 page FVA form entering lots of personal and private information, applying for £400 to go on day trips by train to 5 Scottish cities with my son. I gave approximate costs for the outings as I wasn’t sure what dates we would travel and these might change according to circumstances.
I eventually received an Email saying that they needed accurate costs for the day trips and I responded saying I couldn’t give absolute amounts as the dates and times of travel might change, also the type of activity accordingly.
Here is my Email:
Sent: 04 September 2014 16:26
“Hi ….. thanks for your Email.
I am thinking that is becoming very difficult to achieve. As an unpaid carer of a son with mental health issues it means that I cannot plan a specific activity down to the finest detail as this could be changed at the last minute. Therefore I wouldn’t be buying train tickets in advance more cheaply because on that day my son might not be up to the travel if something has occurred which has affected his mental health. And I wouldn’t be buying tickets for an event ahead of time for the same reasons.
Here is a for example. If we bought tickets for a train and a theatre performance and then the weather was wild, gale force winds, lashing rain, snow or suchlike then we would not want to venture out. Another example. If we got news about something happening, out of the ordinary (money wise, family wise, other wise) it could affect the mood and we wouldn’t feel inclined to travel or leave home. That is the reality.
So I can’t give you specifics. If this is an issue I suggest you give the money to some other carer who can plan their day down to finest detail, regardless of unexpected happenings. For they obviously are far more the type of carer you are looking for.
All the best, Chrys
PS I am thinking that my filling out the Creative Break application was another waste of my precious time. Very irritating. Expect a blog post about this one.”
I followed up my Email with a phone call to the female organiser (who I have known well since 2008 when I set up Peer Support Fife), explaining my Email. She said that she also was or had been a carer so understood where I was coming from. She then finished the call.
Kenny Murphy, CEO of FVA, sent this Email to me immediately (bolding is mine, bracketed phrases in italics are mine):
On 4 September 2014 16:59
I think you have considerably misunderstood our request and I’m disappointed (comment: personalising his Email) that somebody of your experience didn’t query it before threatening us with damning publicity and phoning my staff to shout at them (I didn’t shout). You wouldn’t tolerate people phoning you to shout at you (more personalising). I think that was very unfair (and again, personal and unprofessional).
The panel is made up of carer representative organisations, not me and not ….. We don’t take the decisions here. This is a partnership initiative that has worked well over many years, supporting hundreds of carers with tens of thousands of pounds of grants. We’ve never had a complaint like this (comment: no wonder if this is the response a complainer gets) – quite the opposite in fact, we’ve had a lot of praise, particularly for …., for the support we’ve provided carers to access the funding. …… has been the messenger here and you have attempted to shoot her – more than once. (military language, untrue as I have known this woman for years and have treated her with respect, often chatting with her on the phone)
We have always offered help and support to complete the form, to get quotations and to help people change their plans due to changing circumstances. We have never held people to rigid plans and would never seek to do so (comment: but you do bully anyone who doesn’t fall into line). You must appreciate that this is public money and we must have some sort of detail to show that we’ve exercised our duties in a diligent manner (another patronising comment). We cannot simply give money to people who ask for it, with no supporting information or anything which we can reasonably monitor to demonstrate value and validity. We have funding guidelines and we need to be sure that the things we are agreeing to are legitimate and appropriate.
You have read into …….’s request all sorts of demands and details (no I didn’t) which are simply not there. We’re looking for an itinerary that broadly shows what, when and how much. We know it might change. You could easily get a quotation for return train tickets and a theatre performance that, ideally, you’d like to attend. We know and understand that circumstances change. At no point have we insisted or asked that you buy cheap train tickets in advance – we have never stipulated this with any carer. (comment: putting a mother and carer in her place)
We would support you to make alternative arrangements and, as long as it fell within the broad terms of the funding application and agreement, fully honour it. For example, if you said £50 travel and £50 tickets for a performance on 28 September and you ended up spending £60 on travel and £65 on the theatre for the following day we wouldn’t be concerned about that. If you spend £300 on travel and £250 on the performance after the funding period has ended then we would have an issue with that – because our funders would and other carers and taxpayers potentially would too (comment: I have an admin management degree, top student, I don’t need lectured in financial management). There are many examples of flexibility and support that I could cite, and we have an excellent track record of being just that. I wish you had contacted us first and you would have found this out without wasting time and energy, and upsetting people unnecessarily. (my comment: it was me who was upset)
We have had frank exchanges of view over the last 2 years Chrys and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. (my comment: this man has patronised me since he came in post and at time I have thought him a right numpty. My opinion hasn’t changed) We have agreed on things and hopefully we will agree on more things going forward (no that isn’t likely). Sadly, I expect further e-mails and blogs about this, when all we want to do is help you to access the funding and enjoy some good quality time with your son. Maybe you will allow us to play a small part (another patronising comment) in enabling that – I’ll leave that for you to decide. (I decided to raise a complaint about Kenny Murphy to the FVA Board)
Fife Voluntary Action
Tel. 01592 760721″
My response Sent 4 September 2014 17:38:
Kenny I don’t appreciate the “threatening us with damning publicity” re staff
“shout at them” – untrue.
“attempted to shoot her – more than once” very forceful, military language, uncalled for. Untrue allegation.
“we cannot simply give money to people who ask for it” – arrogant statement. This is not your money, it’s for unpaid carers.
[I am someone who is known locally, have lived in the Cupar area since 1990, worked in many local voluntary sector settings eg Warden at Age Concern, Cupar, The Lighthouse, the YMCA as a children’s worker etc. I am respected by many, even if you don’t accord me any respect. I take part in many national groups from the carer perspective, voluntarily, and have formed collaborative relationships with many professionals locally, nationally and internationally.]
“legitimate and appropriate” – as if my request was illegitimate and inappropriate. That could be construed as slander.
“quality time with your son”? All the time I spend with my son is of a good quality. The Creative Breaks fund money was to enable us to relax together.
And then you proceed to lecture me on how to spend which is a small amount of money in the scheme of things. When I manage on £61/week as an unpaid carer, am a voluntary activist and campaigner, giving up my time to improve mental health services in Fife. It’s disgraceful.
I don’t appreciate your patronising tone which comes over as bullying.
Please remove my application for Creative Breaks fund monies. I am sure that you will find other more deserving carers who will be prepared to obey your requirements, jump through your hoops and be grateful for the privilege.
I will be raising a complaint with the Fife Voluntary Action board about this Email from you, your derogatory and patronising language. And I will continue to blog about issues as I see fit, for that is my prerogative, and to Email whosoever I please.
cc female lead of Creative Breaks Fund, senior FVA manager”
Unfortunately all complaints against Fife Voluntary Action have to go through the CEO. This isn’t good practice, in my opinion, when the complaint is against the CEO. I think this needs looked at. It will make things very difficult for any person who has been treated badly by the CEO and wants a fair hearing. [I am assuming this is historical and comes from the CVS Fife era]
I raised a complaint with the Board of Fife Voluntary Action, copying in two Fife Councillors as witnesses, through 2 Stages and my complaint was not upheld at either stage, so I got no justice. And I got no Creative Breaks monies either.
I asked for a copy of their Complaints Procedures and their latest financial statement. I had to ask for this 3 times and eventually received what I asked for.
Here is their one page “complaints procedure” which they informed me is being updated November 2014. It’s woefully inadequate, in my opinion, and they need a far more robust document so as to ensure complainants are treated fairly when faced with inappropriate, personalised and patronising Emails from the CEO of Fife Voluntary Action.