Church of Scotland to sell Malta House – LEAP must find new home by January
Campaigners are saddened and bitterly disappointed at news that Lothian and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP) is to lose it’s Malta House home. They had hoped that a last-ditch rescue package could be agreed to keep LEAP in Stockbridge, and blame Church of Scotland ‘greed’ for the failure to secure LEAP’s base.
NHS Lothian has leased the Stockbridge building from the Church of Scotland to house LEAP for over five years, but Crossreach – the Church’s social care arm – is selling the property to support it’s own social service provision - and LEAP must now move out of it’s Malta House home by next January.
In a statement issued last week, the Church of Scotland said: “Crossreach, the Social Care Arm of the Church of Scotland, is disappointed that NHS Lothian have not made a bid to purchase Malta House. The indication from NHS Lothian was of a valuation that was significantly below the current market value. The Church of Scotland which has a legal responsibility to be a good steward of its charitable resources is therefore proceeding with a sale to another bidder.
“One of the largest Third Sector care providers in Scotland, CrossReach counts some of the most vulnerable people among its service users. Over the past few years CrossReach has invested heavily in many of its services, particularly in Adult Care, Children and Families and Services to Older People.
“The sale of assets to support new builds and refurbishment of existing services has been an integral part of the strategy to both protect services and secure excellence in service delivery. Failure to achieve the best possible return on the sale of an asset such as Malta House would result in CrossReach’s investment costs being subsidised by its operations, which would not be sustainable, particularly in an already difficult financial climate.
“Peter Bailey, Chief Executive Officer of CrossReach, said: “As a charity the Church of Scotland has a legal responsibility to ensure that it is a good steward of its charitable resources. For the Social Care Council this means that we must use our resources to provide services to support the many vulnerable people throughout Scotland who depend on our seventy-plus projects.
“The Council was happy to discuss the option of sale with NHS Lothian but sadly the gap between the current market value of Malta House and the level of offer that NHS Lothian indicated they might be able to make in some six months’ time was so significant that the Trustees of the Church of Scotland would not have been acting responsibly by agreeing to delay the sale.
“We wish NHS Lothian LEAP well in the future and welcome the statement that NHS Lothian is confident that they can find suitable accommodation from within their existing buildings that will allow this excellent service to continue.
“The Church of Scotland is disappointed and saddened that NHS Lothian has failed to make a bid for Malta House, but quite clearly the Trustees of the Church of Scotland have a legal duty to protect its charitable assets, something that NHS Lothian are all too aware of. By not going with another purchaser, the Trustees would be failing in their duty to the many hundreds of CrossReach service users in Scotland.
“The Church of Scotland has been pleased to lease Malta House to NHS Lothian since 2007. In 2010 when the lease was renewed it was made clear that a sale would be made when conditions were right, and to that end break points were included in the contract. The Church of Scotland has given NHS Lothian adequate warning of possible sale but remains willing to work closely with LEAP to minimise disruption to service users over the next few months.”
However local campaigners believe that the Church of Scotland could have done much more to support LEAP, and say that greed is driving force behind the sale.
In a lengthy statement, campaigner Tim Birley, who is also LEAP’s Malta Row neighbour, said: “LEAP recently celebrated five years and more than 250 patient graduations in Malta House. People who have been treated there feel their lives have been saved. LEAP wanted to stay at Malta House and had been planning to expand. Malta House provides a secluded environment, yet very accessible: within walking distance of where patients stay, with a local pharmacy and health centre close by. Unusually for drug rehab, they found a safe, secure and welcoming community, and feel at home. For more than 100 years Malta House, under the ownership of the Church, has provided a social facility in the heart of Stockbridge.
“In mid-August it emerged that CrossReach (the Church of Scotland Social Care Council) had given six months notice to terminate the lease to LEAP, to sell the property. This action was explicitly kept secret from the local community. A bid had been received from a developer; there had been no open marketing of the property, no for sale sign, no inclusion on the Church’s list of properties for sale. The lease to LEAP had been renewed in 2010 for 5 years, with clauses to terminate included as is standard practice. LEAP had expected to stay and planned to expand its services there, and NHS Lothian had recently invested £10,000 in the property.
“The Church consulted no-one and made no assessment of the impact on LEAP of its decision. It is our understanding that no-one from CrossReach even spoke to LEAP until the story was in the Edinburgh Evening News. Patients and ex-patients asked for a meeting with CrossReach, but this never took place. Petitions and representations went unanswered; the Moderator said that CrossReach was not in his area of influence, just as he embarked on a week’s tour of CrossReach services.
“What the Church did do, when the campaign grew, was to try to ‘retrofit’ a justification for its actions. Despite the secrecy of the sale, the Church tried to argue that everyone knew all along that it planned to sell – even people such as Scottish Ministers who had no role in the lease whatsoever. Clearly everyone did not know: LEAP would not have invested in Malta House had they expected to leave at short notice. The Chairman of NHS Lothian only found that Malta House was being sold in the course of a Ministerial visit in mid August.
“The Church also argued that all its CrossReach services depended on the sale of Malta House, and circulated this widely throughout its facilities. Its own reports tell a different story. Each year CrossReach reports to the General Assembly. Clearly there was a financial crisis in 2009, when services were closed, staff made redundant and properties sold. Then a strategy to ensure financial sustainability was put in place, and by May 2011 CrossReach reported that “we will no longer be reliant on the sale of assets to achieve a balanced budget”, and reported on the continued success of this strategy in May 2012. This picture is confirmed by press reports and by the Church accounts published by OSCR. These show that the Church as a whole was in substantial surplus over the 5 years 2007-2011, with just one year in deficit: 2009. (Note that the lease to LEAP was given a 5 year renewal in 2010!)
“So if asset sales are no longer needed, why the need to sell Malta House and sell in a hurry? We think there are two possible explanations, which may well be linked. First as stated in the latest press release, “the sale of assets to support new builds and refurbishment of existing services has been an integral part of the strategy”. This suggests that the sale looks likely to be for building works elsewhere, and not to support the running costs of all of its services. Second, perhaps the Church simply received an offer to buy which it has found too attractive to refuse? Greed trumps all. Why try to put a smokescreen around this?
“The final insult to injury has been the attempt to blame others for what has happened. In wording worthy of Uriah Heep, Peter Bailey, CEO of CrossReach wrote about LEAP: “we have a great deal of sympathy for the situation they now find themselves in”. This, from a spokesperson for a landlord choosing to evict a tenant!
“Equally outrageous is the statement that “the Church of Scotland is disappointed and saddened that NHS Lothian has failed to make a bid for Malta House”. Only under pressure did CrossReach publicly express that it would be willing to listen to offers from the NHS. Against an impossibly tight timescale for a public body, the NHS started to put together a bid. As soon as the first hurdle was encountered, the Church pulled the plug on further discussion. That hurdle was technically over valuations: the NHS is constrained to value the existing building in its existing use, and not take account of the market value of the site. It would take time and goodwill to close the gap between the offer the Church has from a developer and what public or charitable bodies could raise, and both time and goodwill appear to be missing. The Church should not blame the NHS when it announced the end of discussion in a press release, and those campaigning had to inform the staff at LEAP! But that has been par for the course.
“Finally, the Church claims to be: ”willing to work closely with LEAP to minimise disruption to service users over the next few months.” In fact they have done nothing, and been totally inflexible about any extension of the lease beyond January 2013.
“There is a good side to the story. When LEAP was set up in Malta House in 2007 it was innovative and pioneering, but also experimental with no assurance of a long-term future. Five years later it has become established as providing a successful, significant and growing route out of dependency on drink and drugs. Our campaign has revealed the extent of cross-party political support, its international reputation and above all the moving stories of success by former patients and their families. During the campaign, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Health, Social Care and Housing Committee passed a motion in support of LEAP and expanding its activities, and NHS Lothian expressed total commitment to LEAP continuing. It will continue, and we hope be enabled to thrive.
“What has stood out more and more during this campaign has been the wonderful work which Dr David McCartney and his team undertake, and the courage and mutual support of those attending Malta House and their families. Stories have moved us to tears: the parents who emailed:
“as a family member visiting a patient during their stay at LEAP, Malta House has a seclusion and privacy about it, it also has a garden. For family members visiting patients it is a special place for us too. Just to be able to talk and chat in such a lovely, friendly setting puts us at our ease, especially at a difficult time right at the heart of recovery for our loved ones and at a time of real anxiety, fear and desperate hope for us for the future. Malta House has that effect on us. I wish us all the very best of luck.”
Or the two photos, one of the gaunt youngster, the other of the happy young man he has become, proudly on top of a Scottish hill. He writes:
‘After fourteen years as a heroin addict – and with many failed attempts at getting clean – I was referred to Malta House in October 2008. At that time the thought of walking the one mile to and from the accommodation at Randolph Crescent to Malta House seemed absolutely overwhelming. There was, however, no alternative and I just had to dig in and get on with it. For me that daily walk became an important aspect of my recovery. Yesterday I completed my 100th Munro.’
“What has also emerged is the strength of local community spirit. The character of Stockbridge is already under threat from loss of community facilities, loss of open space, lack of parking, and threats to independent shops. In this case, people fought to try to keep a drug rehab unit in their midst, seeking and getting political support for this. This is remarkable in itself. Over 600 people signed petitions to save Malta House for LEAP. Not one single voice said “get these people out of here”. Those campaigning are very grateful for all the support received, fighting a good fight for a noble cause. We are proud of the values we have sought to defend (in the face of the opposition and apparent indifference of the Church of Scotland).
“As for the Church, it is a very sad day. When offered a deal by a developer, they could not resist the money, indeed it was clearly the sole focus. All their claims of principles, their value statements, their advice to others that the purposes of economic activity should be about the disadvantaged, have been shown as hypocrisy to be set aside for immediate financial gain. So the outcome is the classic lose-lose: LEAP is forced to relocate (and there is no other Malta House!); Stockbridge loses a social care facility that has existed from more than 100 years; and the Church shows its lack of compassion and any vestige of Christian ethic.
“How different it could have been. If the Church did have a long-term plan, and been open about it (as their value statement says they will be), they could have discussed this with LEAP, the City of Edinburgh Council and the local community. They could have said “We are looking to sell, do you want to put together a bid to buy?” Then all options could have been explored including purchase by public bodies, charitable foundations or a community buy-out. The cause is so outstanding that there would have been every chance of the Church getting its money, and of LEAP being able to remain at Malta House. How sad this was given no chance.
We will miss our neighbours. We wish them well in their new home, wherever that may be.”
For NHS Lothian, the search is now on for that new home for LEAP.
Following a meeting this morning, the Church of Scotland has issued the following statement:
‘The Church of Scotland first indicated to NHS Lothian in 2010 our intention to sell Malta House when conditions were right. Two weeks ago, NHS Lothian completed a valuation of the property. They then informed the Church that, even if they could put together the funding to make an offer for Malta House in six months’ time, public sector financial regulations would restrict the value of that offer to a sum less than 50% of the valuation to which we are working.
Given this disparity, and our need to protect our own vital CrossReach services which support many vulnerable people throughout Scotland, we are currently in final negotiations with another potential buyer.
We understand from this potential buyer that the current building will be incorporated into any new development on the site. However any proposals to that effect will have to go through the normal planning process where members of the local community will have the opportunity to raise concerns.
NHS Lothian have also indicated to us that they plan to continue with their Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP). They are confident that they can find suitable accommodation from within their existing buildings that will allow this excellent service to continue.’