Cambridge Cyrenians Business Plan 2011 - 2014
Cambridge Cyrenians recently celebrated 40 years of service and support to homeless men and women in Cambridge. During that time the organisation has seen great change and faced many challenges. The current economic climate means that during the period of this plan we are likely to see an increase in demand for our services, whilst at the same time a reduction in funding. There are also likely to be major changes to the way services are commissioned. Hence Cambridge Cyrenians needs to ensure that, more than ever, we are providing targeted, flexible and cost-effective services to those we are best able to support.
This plan sets out Cambridge Cyrenians' strategic direction and key objectives for the next three financial years.
Chair of Cambridge Cyrenians
2. Mission & Values
Our mission is to serve those who are homeless or vulnerable to homelessness, and to make a positive difference to the quality of their lives.
We will do this by being flexible and innovative in response to the changing needs of homeless people, whilst accepting responsibility and being accountable to our service users for our actions
3. Our Services
Cambridge Cyrenians provides supported accommodation for 68 single, homeless men and women in 10 housing projects. The houses offer a range of different types and levels of support based on individual needs.
The flexibility of the service allows referrals to be made directly to any of the houses, but the majority access one of 16 short stay bedspaces, where an individual's support needs are assessed, before moving on to the most appropriate level and type of support. Each stage is designed to enable the individual to maximise their independence. That may be by ultimately moving to their own tenancy, be that social housing, private rented, or sheltered. Alternatively, where needed, by offering specialist, long-term accommodation, such as our Controlled Drinking Project for long-term alcoholics.
To enable us to do this Cambridge Cyrenians is working with a range of partner landlords, including the local authority, registered social landlords, a local trust and a private landlord.
Currently there is high demand for our housing services and this is predicted to increase as the current economic crisis continues.
Resident satisfaction is good. A recent satisfaction survey (2010/11) had a 58% return and 84% said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the services they receive, none were dissatisfied.
Cambridge Cyrenians also provides a number of meaningful activities, including pottery and gardening, for all those who are homeless or vulnerable to homelessness. These activities provide a structured and regular activity that helps clients to develop personal and practical skills and to develop social networks.
As a small provider, with a strong local focus, low cost base and financially sound, the organisation is well positioned to meet future demands.
4. External issues (The wider context)
The new government has come to power at a time of austerity and the focus in its first year has been on reducing government expenditure, which has already resulted in significant cost cutting.
As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010, the government announced that all local authority budgets would be cut each year over the life of the Review, but urged local authorities to protect services to the most vulnerable. To help achieve this the Supporting People budget benefited from lower than average cuts and Cambridgeshire, unlike some 40% of authorities, has not cut its Supporting People budget by more than the amount lost from central government. However it is inevitable that other cuts in public services will lead to increased homelessness as unemployment rises and welfare benefits are cut. An indication of this can already be seen in the increase and types of referrals we are currently seeing.
The changes to welfare benefits is also likely to reduce the amount of existing housing available to our clients as private landlords shy away from clients in receipt of Housing Benefit. There are also signs, despite government insistence, that the building of social housing will slow, rather than increase.
At a regional level Supporting People (SP) has already begun the process of putting all SP funded services out to tender. All accommodation services will go out to tender during the life of this plan. Our own contracts will expire in March 2014. Whilst the details are still sketchy, we know that some of the major influences will be cost reduction and a reduced administrative burden for SP. This is likely to result in accommodation services for the homeless being very different in the future.
At the same time our own income levels are under threat from recent and proposed changes to Housing Benefit (HB) eligibility and new sanctions for benefit claimants who do not adhere to the tighter claim conditions. The review of 'Exempt Accommodation' could also have a crucial impact on the rents and service charges we are able to charge. 'Exempt accommodation' is defined as social and voluntary supported accommodation and is currently given special treatment to enable HB to meet the additional costs of providing this type of specialist housing.
But whilst incomes are static or reducing, general inflation is currently high and not predicted to drop back down towards government targets for some considerable time, thus increasing our operating costs. The recent VAT increase and escalating utility costs also have a significant impact. Staff salaries are currently linked to local authority rates and were frozen in 2010/11 and are likely to be again in 2011/12, however this is not a sustainable position long term.
The current view of government and commissioners appears to be that competition between providers for scarce resources will drive down costs. As an organisation Cambridge Cyrenians believes that this approach is potentially damaging for the homeless people we serve and that, more than ever, the way forward is to work in partnership with others at all levels. This may include forming a consortium with other local providers, if it was thought to be in the interest of the organisation.
During the term of this plan Cambridge Cyrenians will have to tender for our existing services. We will also consider bidding for other new or existing services to mitigate the risk of losses as well as furthering our influence as to how services are provided to homeless people in and around Cambridge.
Cambridge Cyrenians currently provides 25% of the bedspaces for single, homeless, men and women in the City (Excluding bedspaces specifically for young people)
Those we are bidding against will be predominately large regional and national providers, many of who will have considerable experience of the tender process. So it will be essential that Cambridge Cyrenians develops the capability and capacity to produce competitive bids, or has access to support to enable it to bid competitively.
In the past Cyrenians has been successful in securing significant additional funding from other sources, such as the Lottery, trusts and other charitable donors that allow us to complement and support our core services. Being able to provide 'added value' to contract tenders in this way will be important and an area we need to continue to develop.
The Internal Review, below, highlights some of the reasons why we believe that we are the best organisation to continue to provide our current services, but also, for some of the same reasons, why this organisation would be best placed to provide other services if we believe that the users of those services would ultimately benefit from our support.
A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 'Tackling Homelessness and Exclusion: Understanding complex lives', September 2011, supports Cambridge Cyrenians decision not to separate Housing Management and Support. The report says, ' there is a clear message from the service users in this study that . The scope for flexibility and person-centred ways of working within the current housing support role – which allows your worker to phone the utility companies on your behalf, accompany you to see the doctor and provide a bit of 'radical advocacy' to get through red tape – is something that is highly valued. Again this lends further support to the need to move away from compartmentalised and organizationally driven approaches (which try to delineate between 'housing' and 'care') towards more individualised approaches where people are able to self-direct their own support and determine the size and scope of their own 'personal workforce'.
5. Internal Review
A recent internal review by trustees and staff during early 2011 highlighted some of Cambridge Cyrenians strengths, such as its strong local connection and good local knowledge. It showed an involved, responsive and experienced staff team who are highly committed to the service and their clients. In a compressed administration hierarchy, decision making is pushed down the line of management to create a flexible service that is quick to respond to change and need. The importance of this is reflected in the low turnover of staff, low sickness rates and no use of or need for agency staff. Good communication and mutual support creates a sense of ownership, which can be seen in staff taking direct responsibility for managing costs.
There is a high level of demand for our services. This is because the small and more personal accommodation projects, more akin to a house than a hostel, are non-clinical, less bureaucratic, with no reception areas and they enable staff to engage positively with residents and encourage client ownership. This leads to greater stability and mutual support within the projects. Residents are encouraged to take greater control and responsibility for the day to day running of each project than they might expect to in a large hostel. Providing all residents access to the internet to bid for housing, job search and social networking, as well as communicating with staff by text is balanced with one to one support as part of the resettlement process.
The government's promotion of volunteering as part of its Big Society agenda may not be as successful as it would like and the definition of the 'Big Society' is still being debated, but Cambridge Cyrenians continues to offer and promote part-time and full-time volunteering opportunities for those who wish to learn about the impact of homelessness on people's lives, whether that is as part of their studies, the wish to secure work experience, or for purely altruistic reasons. The full-time volunteers are a core aspect of service delivery and are an integral part of the organisation, they oversee much of the day to day running of three of our projects. The relationship between volunteer and resident is more informal and helps with the process of developing trust and engagement. However it is important that volunteering isn't seen as a substitute for trained and experienced staff.
The review also brought to the fore areas where the organisation will need to consider options if it is to remain competitive. The review considered the organisation's profile with the general public and commissioners. It is more readily identifiable by the local public than many other agencies, but is perhaps not at the forefront of commissioner's minds and this could make it vulnerable when services are being commissioned. Whilst there are many benefits to being local and small, this does put the organisation at some disadvantage when competing against large national providers for contracts because our resources are finite. In addition, unlike other providers, we haven't, until now, had access to a full range of in-house expertise, such as HR , finance or legal advice etc. This is why our joining the Federation of Simon and Cyrenians is so important to give us access to these services.
At a time when staff have identified areas where they would like to develop and expand the work we do with individual clients, there is a concern that improvements are needed in the present internal systems for recording information and responding to external demands for information.
The current trustees bring a wealth of experience to the Committee, but we need to regularly look to recruit new members in order to have sufficient numbers and the range of skills needed.
6. Our priorities
We have set a series of priorities for the duration of this plan. They include:
a. Good outcomes
By putting our clients first we are committed to:
• Ensuring all residents have a Person Centred Plan
• Supporting residents to move on to independent living - evidenced by benchmarking the current outcomes for clients internally and externally (i.e. if the data is available for other services.) Setting targets. Reporting results to trustees annually.
• Improving the already good, engagement with meaningful, daytime activities by raising awareness of our own and other agency activities through support plans, newsletters etc.
• Upgrading our existing accommodation by identifying improvements which can be introduced separately or as part of major repairs or refurbishment work, subject to a cost analysis. (See 6.2)
• Encouraging resident involvement at all levels by refreshing the processes by which we invite comment and the direct involvement of residents. These are, one to one discussions, newsletters, questionnaires and invitations to meetings at all levels from House Meetings to Open Meetings with trustees. Recording levels of activity and reporting back to trustees.
• Developing and improving our current systems of record keeping - by monitoring what is being recorded, how it is recorded and how up to date it is and reporting back to trustees with recommendations.
• Fairer rents – evidenced by adjusting our accommodation charges over time to better match the cost of general needs housing. e.g. to ensure working residents aren't penalised for working and that personal service charges better reflect those that clients will face when living in independent housing, but at the same time ensuring residents are incentivised to move on. (See 6.b)
• Better/more appropriate referrals – evidenced by better information available though the new, City Council managed, Inform database, whilst acknowledging that Cambridge Cyrenians do not have direct control over the database.
• continuing to champion the needs of older homeless men and women
• continuing to support other agencies regionally and nationally to design and develop accommodation services for long-term alcoholics
b. Financial sustainability
Enhance our medium to long-term financial security by:
• Reviewing the hourly rate for each project for support as calculated by Supporting People to ensure we remain competitive in the local market for as long as hourly rates remain relevant.
• Developing or obtaining the skills to secure our existing contracts as well as the potential to win new contracts
• Look to reduce direct costs by seeking competitive quotations for commodities or services and investigating opportunities for cost savings through joint purchasing with other organisations.
• Better management of rental income -
o By closer monitoring and addressing delays or errors in HB or cash payments at the earliest opportunity.
o By maintaining rent accounts up to date each week thereby providing staff with accurate arrears information.
o By reviewing current collection methods to consider new or better ways of collecting rents which might supplement the current cash collection.
o By reviewing the current system for recovering rent arrears
o Monitoring and comparing our rents and services charges against other providers
• Manage our reserves wisely -
o Annually review how and where current reserves are invested to maximise income
o To increase reserves in accordance with our reserves policy
o Consider investment in energy efficiency and/or how to reduced energy consumption
c. Developing new and existing services-
• Develop and expand the current resettlement work with residents
• Raise our public profile – have a presence at one or more events per year to promote the charity and its work and issue two or three press releases each year.
• We will consider opportunities to expand inside and outside of Cambridge by monitoring available tenders
• Consider how we would meet the County Homelessness Joint Strategic Needs Assessment's requirement for specialist accommodation for older homeless men and women.
• Consider how alternative move-on accommodation could be provided as an alternative to social housing or private rented as the supply dwindles. Possibly loosely based on a mutual or co-operative model of shared housing, in partnership with local RSL's and private landlords.
d. Partnership –
• Identify potential partners with a shared vision for possible future closer co-operation to increase opportunities and reduce cost including:
o involvement in shaping the Federation of Simon and Cyrenians
o Identifying other opportunities to work with local or regional partners
e. Influencing policy and practice
• Continue to provide a leading role in influencing areas of local, regional and national policy and practice where we can influence decision makers.
• Actively promote a service model that offers accommodation in small, community based houses, rather than large hostels.
7. Financial plan
Cambridge Cyrenians has a strong financial position, having outperformed its budgetary targets for the past few years whilst at the same time offering value for money. However much of our income is not within our control being set by outside agencies, primarily governmental, and we need to plan for the effects of the radical changes to the Welfare Benefit system that are proposed. Other income streams are dependant on successful tendering for contracts and applications to charitable trusts.
These factors are weaknesses which are inherent to many charities and to address them and ensure that we remain flexible and open to new opportunities our strategies are as follows:
• We will seek to manage any short to medium term reductions in income through efficiencies
• in our budgeting, tendering and financial planning we seek to ensure that we apply full cost recovery to each project and activity
• at the same time we will provide bursary support to individuals where appropriate, such as to assist residents who are working and in receipt of reduced levels of state benefits
• as outlined in this document, growth in our existing activities and constantly looking to develop new areas of work and ways of operating will enable us to both improve the accommodation, support and services we offer and attract the necessary finance from funders both governmental and other agencies
• good management of our income streams will be matched by close control of costs while ensuring that we have the level of administrative and management support necessary to run the organisation
Our aspirations are to grow during this period of uncertainty, precisely because we anticipate that demand for our services and support will increase over the coming years. Our objectives will be monitored closely by the Board and reviewed against targets.