SERIOUS questions have emerged over domestic abuse support services after a council defunded Women’s Aid groups.

North Lanarkshire Council(NLC) says its new £1.4 million contract with community justice organisation Sacro is better value for money and will better help male victims.

A review into the help available in the region concluded in January last year and a tendering process began.

This week, officers concluded the Sacro bid was the “most economically advantageous”.

Women’s Aid groups in the running had already been providing the service but their funding will end in May, with Sacro taking over from the start of June for two years. That deal could be extended for a further two-year period, under the terms agreed.

Council officers said planning for the new service was “informed by the findings of gaps in services with respect to specific groups including LGBT+ and BAME and also with respect to male victims” and the new deal will allow “a greater portion of funding to be directed to frontline activity”.

But local MP Neil Gray and MSP Alex Neil have expressed “extreme disappointment” and say they fear for the future of Monklands Women’s Aid and Motherwell & District Women’s Aid.

Sharon Aitchison, chief executive of Monklands Women’s Aid – which offers refuge provision and services for women, children and young people – told The National: “We are devastated at NLC’s decision to remove funding from proven specialist Women’s Aid services.

“Monklands Women’s Aid is a grassroots organisation that has been serving our community for 40 years. It is built on the premise of women supporting women, and as such we are a trusted independent local service which helps change and save lives. This decision undermines the availability of quality proven local independent specialist support.”

Aitchison said the organisation “will survive because of separate funding” and keep its refuge and other activities open. It says its “core focus is supporting women, children and young people who have suffered domestic abuse and our approach, practice and understanding has been built up by listening to those we work with”.

Aitchison said: “Be under no illusion – domestic abuse is a form of gender-based abuse and women routinely lose their lives due to domestic abuse.

“This decision to award a contract to a non-specialist community justice organisation makes the mistake of seeing domestic abuse as gender neutral and will negatively impact on women, children and young people.”

Gray said: “I cannot fathom the reasoning for the decision. There is a need for far greater transparency.”

NLC said the tender was awarded after a “normal procurement process and regulations”. A spokesperson said: “We will continue to work with local Women’s Aid groups for other services.”