Archive for June, 2011

(And why the Premier League is making my blood Boyle…)

I’m sure many of us have considered the Southern Cross debacle within recent weeks. Was this inevitable? Is this a taste of things to come for other outsourced public services? An investigation by the Financial Times has recently shown that the quality of care in one in seven privately run homes in England was rated “poor” or “adequate” by the government regulator. These low ratings indicate potentially serious problems such as a failure to adequately to feed or clean residents. By contrast, the low ratings applied to just one in 11 homes run by non-profit organisations or local authorities (based on April 2010 ratings from the regulator the Care Quality Commission).

Of course there are excellent privately run care homes, but it appears the desire to deliver profits in excess of what might normally be expected – by carving up the company several years ago – has led to a serious crisis.

To me it seems there are three options:

  1. The ultimately inevitable government bailout of Southern Cross happens and the status quo limps on, on the basis they become financially viable of the business. But this seems to be unlikely given many costs (staff) have already been cut to the bone. How they will shed another 3,000 employees without further reducing the quality of care is a critical question to be answered.
  2. That one or some of the charity residential care providers and supporters of older people – such as Leonard Cheshire, Abbeyfield and Age UK – either alone or together are encouraged to get involved in the delivery of these essential services. Although given the time pressures, risk and mission drift this would cause, it’s very unlikely. If I were in government I would not hold my breath for too long.
  3. But there is a potential third option. One that has been missing from the debate thus far and that is the role of social enterprise. There are big questions that need answering before I can be sure that it would work, but surely we need some transformative thinking here rather than how we patch up a model of care that simply can’t work.

I’m suggesting that we form a new CIC Ltd by share; let’s call it ‘Fair Care’. We appoint an executive board with a power-house chairperson who government will listen to and we make government a shareholder, perhaps with a golden share. We recruit sector specialists who have turned around care services before – Geoff Walker (Sandwell CCT), Victor Adebowale (Turning Point), Margaret Elliot (Sunderland Homecare) and Maria Mills (SCA Group). We bring in a couple of former local authority CEO’s or directors of social care, some social financiers – and have a couple of government seats on the board. And then we bring in the experts who can sense check a business plan in a tight time frame.

The ‘Fair Care’ CIC board is socially driven, bespoke and fit for purpose, but it doesn’t deliver – it oversees delivery and commissions from local and national charities. It’s a kind of ‘network rail’ solution only much, much better. Equity investment could potentially come from church resources and perhaps from charity reserves – particularly those involved in older people’s care. Investment could flow from private sources and from government too.

Charities big and small could deliver the operational side – they get rate relief and an 80% reduction in rates is a very substantial saving for care homes – often the equivalent to four or five full time staff! Then throw in the power of social enterprise delivery models – their ability to create value through staff engagement, training, recruitment and staff retention. We know that social enterprise care homes (most of which have charitable status often because of the tax relief available) have driven down costs, not by cutting staff but by driving up productivity, reducing absenteeism, co designing services with carers and beneficiaries, and leveraging vast amounts of social capital and genuine value through the trust they have developed with their stakeholders. Can you ever imagine a local community volunteering or raising funds to support the endeavours of Southern Cross? Or an elderly resident bequeathing their estate to a PLC?

Of course it’s not as easy as it seems. There are many questions that require clarification and lots of hurdles too. What are the liabilities? What is the working capital required from government and loan investment? How investible is this new business model? What are the terms and conditions of existing contracts with local authorities? The lease arrangements and opportunities to negotiate with the Southern Cross property company? The TUPE implications?

But if we’re given some of the answers to these questions then a social enterprise solution can be found. And the well being, security and safety of the most vulnerable people within our society must be found alongside a trusted long-term approach to the care of older people.

Crisis is a great opportunity for innovation, fresh thinking and for the delivery of new approaches. Let’s hope the government sees the opportunity beyond the crisis. I’m asking our sector to come forward with more ideas, more questions and to contribute to the debate. I believe this could be an opportunity for social enterprise – and for the principles in Big Society – to shine.

Let’s get a roundtable organised, thrash out the details and make a coherent case to government that this is an area where transformative thinking is required.


An important ps.

I was absolutely gutted to hear that Dave Boyle, CEO from Supporters Direct (one of our members), was forced to resign following a twitter outburst about MK Dons, franchise football and the Premier League’s role in the whole thing. I was with Dave the day after AFC Wimbledon were promoted to the Football League after our original club was bought and moved nine years ago. I had a couple of celebratory pints with him. He’s a great guy and has achieved a vast amount with Supporters Direct for the benefit of football, rugby league fans and communities right across the country.

For AFC Wimbledon and other social enterprise football clubs that are community owned, the withdrawal of Supporters Direct funding and the Premier League’s insistence that it had lost faith in the organisation’s leadership following the indiscreet tweet, is just another sign that the Premier League is out of step with the people.

Lots more to say, but no time to say it, so I’ll try and blog again very soon. Thanks for all your personal messages of support over the last couple of weeks – it means a lot.


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