Life Opportunities Trust, in common with all social care providers, has now undergone several years of extremely stringent financial cutbacks imposed by local authorities, and there seems little likelihood of this changing in the immediate future. Because of this, we have had to review our strategies and operations to compensate for the shortfalls and ensure that our service users are not disadvantaged by the continuing cutbacks whilst sustaining our commitment to, and reputation for, high quality in all our provision.
The Trust has been through a period of transition during the year, but we have been conscious of maintaining continuity and sustaining the spirit of all the great things we have achieved over the past twenty four years.
It was with great sadness that we said goodbye to Abbey House, which was transferred to another provider as part of the Local Authority’s reorganisation of service delivery, over which we had no control and were unable to exert any influence. Abbey House’s previous incarnation, Highlever Road, was our first Home, in 1991, and two of the present tenants at Abbey House were our very first service users, so it was an emotional goodbye from us at the end of February to both tenants and those of our staff who transferred over the new provider. It is hoped that they will continue to maintain the high standards which we had consistently provided since 2004.
With a year of successfully providing housing management in our Shepherds Bush Housing Association Homes in Hillingdon under our belt, we are almost at the point of being able to deregister the Homes into supported living, which will give the service users greater opportunities for a varied and individual lifestyle with fewer restrictions than in a residential care setting. A great deal of preparation work has gone into preparing staff and service users for the transition, and we are confident that this will be completed by the end of summer.
Outreach services continue to grow rapidly but in a controlled fashion, and we have diversified into several London Boroughs. We are confident that our services will grow to around £1m worth of business by the end of the next financial year.
The quality of our services and our standards are fully dependent upon our staff who work directly with our service users to not only provide everyday support and care but who also play a huge part in enriching their lives by going the extra mile to help the service users reach their goals and aspirations.
Salaries were again frozen for the third year in succession since our income was cut by almost £100,000 by the Local Authorities in which we provide services. The Trustees took this decision with great reluctance but are aware of the need for prudence in order to run a viable business in such a pressured financial environment. We really appreciate the understanding of our staff and the way in which they have maintained enthusiasm and dedication to providing a high quality of support for our service users, in spite of reduced budgets which of necessity mean less staffing in our Homes. Fortunately, we were able to manage the reduction in funding through a creative reorganisation which saved our having to make redundancies. As compensation for this, we were able to award a small bonus to all our staff at the beginning of the year to reflect their hard work and commitment.
PLANS FOR THE COMING YEAR
The coming year is set to be the most challenging in LOT’s twenty five year history. We regrettably returned our largest-ever financial deficit at the end of the financial year which was due to several unexpected service user vacancies in the Homes we run, in spite of reconfiguring other services to compensate for such issues. With confidence in our continuing tight control of expenditure and excellent debtor control, we have been able to set a budget for the year ahead which will at least enable us to make a small surplus, even when considering the extra expenditure that we will have to incur in implementing the new pension scheme this year. The reorganisation of staff in the Homes, together with the reconfiguration of our services in Hillingdon, will also help restrict expenditure. We will, of course, continue to closely monitor expenditure, trying to reduce waste and cost inefficiencies as well as maintaining effective management and reacting swiftly to any potential difficulties.
However, we are always vulnerable to the adverse effect that too many vacancies will have on our income, so have to be ready to offer places to new service users or work creatively within affected Homes.
This year will see the retirement of our founding Chairman after twenty five years at the helm. This will be a significant moment and it is vital that her excellent stewardship is continued by the incoming Chairman. In keeping with our experience in effecting smooth transitions and maintaining continuity, the new Chairman, selected from the Trustees and with many years’ close involvement with LOT, is already being inducted into the role and so we are confident that the changeover will take place without problems in the autumn.
The Board is committed to seeing LOT grow and develop. We believe that next year will be as challenging as the preceding few years have been. But we will continue to strive to provide outstanding care and support to our service users, and work in partnership with our purchasers and other stakeholders to positively influence the lives of our service users. We know that we continue to provide a high standard of support, and believe that it is now vital to develop our marketing function to highlight this strength to diversify and attract a wider range of customers to ensure LOT’s continuing success in the future.