Charity boss quits after backlash at home closures

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The head of one of Britain's biggest charities for the disabled has resigned, amid accusations that he closed care homes without consulting residents and suppressed criticism of his management style.

Tony Manwaring, the chief executive of the cerebral palsy charity Scope, left last week after three years at the helm. Scope declined to give any reasons behind his departure, simply saying that he had decided that "now is the best possible time to move on".

A statement said Mr Manwaring would be announcing his plans "in the near future" and an acting chief executive has been appointed. Scope, formerly the Spastics Society, is one of the most well-known charities in Britain and has an income of about £100m.

Mr Manwaring had attracted severe criticism over the way in which he has run the charity in the past three years. Some families were outraged at his plans to close the charity's 50 residential homes over the next 10 years and move Scope from a charity that provides care to a campaigning organisation.

Mr Manwaring had insisted that by continuing to keep the homes open, the charity was institutionalising disabled people and providing services that should be funded by Government.

Critics say that he had failed to consult with residents and their families about the closures and had ridden roughshod over their objections in the pursuit of reducing the charity's £5m deficit by selling off sites to developers.

The dispute came to a fore last year when Scope announced it was closing Cyncoed House in Cardiff, which provided 11 supported flats for disabled adults. Colin Gent, whose 40-year-old son, Damon, was one of the residents, said: "The flats had been allowed to become run down and were in a terribly squalid state, but we were told that they were going to move to a new building and people had even been asked to pick out the carpets they wanted.

"Then we received a letter saying that Cyncoed was being closed and that everyone was being turfed out.

"There was no consultation and no one listened to our objections; Tony Manwaring didn't even have the decency to come and face us when we complained. He said it was about not institutionalising people, but he didn't even talk to the people who live there and ask them what they wanted.

"We don't want institutions but what Scope should have done is change the way in which it manages the homes it has instead of just closing them."

Cyncoed closed inNovember and while Mr Gent's son has been found new accommodation by a local housing association, some of the former residents are still in temporary care. The site was sold to a private care home company for £2.3m.

Other homes, including a school for disabled children in Cornwall, have been closed as a result of the policy review by Scope.

Mr Gent said: "I know a lot of people who have withdrawn support from Scope because they feel that their donations are getting swallowed up in admin and management and having swanky offices in London rather than helping disabled people. It's all about rebranding; Manwaring is basically a spin doctor and he has caused Scope to go down the drain."

Disaffected contributors to Scope's online forum had taken to referring to Mr Manwaring as "Mr Mainwaring", a reference to the officious bank manager character in the sitcom Dad's Army. They say he focused too much on headline-grabbing gimmicks such as a "Free to Pee" campaign, about access to disabled toilets in public, rather than on the big issues. Insiders believe that he may have been forced to resign amid growing anger at his abrasive management style.

The charity has struggled to contain a £5m deficit caused by a fall in donations and stock market losses.

Mr Manwaring, who was on a £150,000 salary, is a friend of Peter Mandelson and worked for the Labour Party in the run-up to its 1997 election victory. He then worked for the National Children's Homes charity before being poached by Scope in 2003.

It is not just parents who were angered by Mr Manwaring's style. Until March last year, Mary Wilkinson was editor of Disability Now, the magazine owned by Scope, which had been editorially independent of the charity as well as one of the most respected international periodicals in the disabled community.

Mrs Wilkinson says: "It is all credit to Scope that they allowed us our independence and gave us free rein to criticise the charity when it was warranted. But then Tony Manwaring came in and that independence, I have to say, seemed to be eroded. I know that articles criticising Scope have been stopped and not published and I think that is very sad."

In a statement, Scope paid tribute to Mr Manwaring's achievements, saying that he had increased the proportion of disabled people working for the charity from 4 per cent to 17 per cent.

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