This year, demand across all our services and the increasing economies of scale resulting from our growth have contributed to a strong and improved financial position for Anchor.
Ongoing savings continue to be realised from the significant efficiency drive initiated in the year ending 31 March 2015. In the year 2015/16, we maintained control over our support costs while growing turnover through acquisition and from new developments. This careful management of our financial position enabled us to deliver a surplus of £12.3m for the year to reinvest in the business.
The period marked the start of our ambitious five-year Business Plan and our Annual Report details progress in three key areas of our plan – best customer service, best place to work and best run company – as well as explaining how we are growing through both acquisition and development.
Our plan is focussed on ensuring we become recognised by customers as the best provider of housing and care services to older people. A key element of this is to use the strength of our financial position and our experience of provision to grow in order to provide happy living to more older people across our range of services.
The year saw us celebrate the completion of two acquisitions, of 25 care homes from LNT Group (trading as Ideal Carehomes) and the Cavendish Healthcare Group of five homes, bringing our total number of care homes to 121. This contributed to a 22.5 percent growth in turnover of our care business, meaning it now accounts for over 40 percent of our overall turnover and employs more than 70 percent of our 8,600 strong workforce.
Anchor does not receive government social housing or capital grants and has not done so for many years. Our growth plans are founded on a solid commitment to value for money and continuously improving efficiency, both of which have become increasingly important in view of the income and cost challenges which have arisen in the year largely as a result of changes in housing policy and the operating environment for Housing Associations.
We continue to see high levels of demand across all our services. While the crisis in housing supply is an important factor, our strong customer focus and significant investment in our existing stock has also contributed to occupancy being at a historic high.
Continuing to develop new models for housing and care in later life is a key component of our strategy; we opened retirement villages Bishopstoke Park and Hampshire Lakes in Hampshire during the year. These developments delivered 165 units of leasehold accommodation and the vast majority of sales were made off-plan, demonstrating strong pent-up demand for high-quality retirement housing. Both villages include specialist dementia care homes and these were among a total of six new care homes providing 344 rooms opened by Anchor in the year.
That commitment to innovation was also visible in our Silver Chic report setting out new ideas for retirement living of the future, which received widespread media coverage.
On the theme of best place to work, we were delighted to feature in The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For, in the Not-for-Profit category – one of the largest employers to do so. The achievement preceded the results of our annual colleague survey for 2016, which saw an increase on our already strong engagement scores. Increased colleague retention and reduced use of agency staff are key to service quality and effective financial management.
Our business objectives, coupled with the ongoing social care workforce challenges, mean recruitment is also a crucial area for us. Having introduced the living wage for key front line colleagues some years ago, as defined by The Living Wage Foundation, and with a sector-leading position on engagement, career development and training, we have received significant media coverage raising the profile of care as a profession and Anchor as a great employer.
We were extremely pleased to be recognised as Best Care Home Operator at the National Care Awards. We also celebrated receiving a top accolade at the national final of the Great British Care Awards, when colleagues at Anchor’s extra-care schemes in Coventry were honoured with the Housing With Care award, and with a range of awards and nominations for support services which deliver the tools and expertise to enable great customer service and efficient operations.
These accolades are a mark of our strong performance in the Your Care Rating survey of resident satisfaction, high levels of compliance with the requirements of the regulator, our consistently high standards of service and commitment to innovation. In addition, 50 of our care homes have now reached the standard required in dementia care to pass our rigorous Anchor Inspires accreditation.
We put the customer at the centre of everything we do and continue to drive strong customer satisfaction in our rented and leasehold housing. This is something which we can only achieve by understanding and being influenced by our customers and we are grateful to all those who give their time to help us continuously improve through our Customer Panel, Customer Services Committee, Regional Forums, Leasehold Group, Scrutiny Committee, LGBT Forum and Complaints Panel.
In the past year a number of new and significant challenges have arisen for the social housing sector, including the imposition of rental income reductions, changes in the benefits system and a government manifesto pledge to implement the Right to Buy for Housing Association tenants. In care homes we have seen the withdrawal of the new approach to funding which had been detailed in the “Care Act”, continued cuts in Local Authority budgets and increasing regulatory scrutiny.
The full impact of these changes has not been felt to date and we await clarification of how the changes to the social housing sector in particular are applied to our specialist housing. In order to address these challenges better, we have changed our internal structure, moving from a regional management model, with a mixture of housing and care, to a more customer focused operating model consisting of two business areas – a housing division and a care division, each headed by an Executive Director. This approach is still aligned with our ‘one Anchor’ philosophy with a single brand, a consistent point of access for our customers and one support services model, building on the successes and the significant efficiencies made as part of the Fit for the Future programme.
This year we have also continued to raise awareness of the important role all our services play in enabling older people to remain independent for longer and reduce costs to the NHS, for example through our innovative work to tackle delayed hospital discharge. This has been made possible by joint working with forward-thinking local authorities and clinical commissioning groups and we are committed to driving even further savings for the taxpayer and better outcomes for older people through these partnerships.