Appeal still an option

Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012

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A new round of legal wrangling may be on the cards for the Waipareira Trust as it decides whether to appeal against its loss in the High Court over a funding contract.

In August the Henderson-based trust took the Ministry of Social Development to court to challenge its decision to axe the trust's funding for the Family Start programme.

Family Start is an intensive early intervention home visitation programme for high-need families with young children.

Waipareira supports 240 West Auckland families through the programme but in April, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced the trust would be one of five providers to lose their contracts because of poor performance.

The trust disputed this and went to the High Court in June.

In court it reached an agreement with the ministry to continue providing its services until legal proceedings were settled.

After weeks of deliberation following the judicial review in late August the ministry decision was upheld.

Justice Priestley found that the deputy chief executive of Family and Community Services Murray Edridge had exercised a contractual right to end the funding.

"There is thus no basis on which I can or should review Mr Edridge's decision," Justice Priestley says.

The ministry says the trust "failed over the two years to meet the performance requirements of the contract despite extensive engagement, monitoring and support".

Mr Tamihere says the trust had reformed its services to reach a high standard.

Although the trust has improved its performance after being warned, its lagging results could lead to a termination of funding and the improvement was found to be insufficient.

"Unfortunately Waipareira had done too little too late.

"Mr Edridge held legitimate concerns over whether the improvement could be maintained," Justice Priestley says. The court therefore found the decision to terminate funding was not open to judicial review.

"His decision cannot be attacked as being unfair, unreasonable, biased, or in bad faith."

But Mr Tamihere says the trust is consulting with legal experts to see if it should proceed with an appeal.

"We have until the December 19 to make a move so we are taking legal advice and getting that peer reviewed. Once that's done I'll be in a better position to say what our next step is."

Mr Edridge is pleased the judge agreed the decision wasn't made in bad faith.

"One staff member, in particular, was criticised by the trust during the proceedings and the judge has found that there was no basis for such a sustained attack on [her] professionalism.

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"The ministry can now move forward and ensure that this important service continues to deliver for some of our most vulnerable families and their children."

Mr Edridge says any further Family Start funding to the trust will be subject to negotiations.

"We have completed the tendering process for Family Start services in Waitakere," he says.

"The next step is to contact the preferred provider and start negotiations for the on-going delivery of the Family Start contract."

- Western Leader

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