Many organisations make bold claims about how they are setting the gold standard; few can back this up with hard evidence. But one that can is the John Taylor Hospice, which was spun out of the National Health Service four years ago.
At the end of November, the hospice in Erdington, Birmingham, was one of three social enterprises to be given a Social Enterprise Gold Mark, a new award developed by the accreditation organisation the Social Enterprise Mark to recognise excellence among social businesses. To achieve the gold mark, the hospice had to demonstrate excellence in three areas: governance, business ethics and financial transparency.
The hospice, which is a community interest company, scored particularly highly for the way its employees are involved in its governance. Under its structure, all of its 150 staff have the option of becoming members of the company by paying £1. As members, they can attend the annual general meeting and elect five of their peers to sit on a membership council. So far, 70 per cent of staff have taken up the option.
Kate Phipps, chief executive of the hospice, says that the structure gives staff a greater say in the running of the organisation than would happen in a traditional business. "The membership council elected by the staff is responsible for appointing the external auditors, our chairman and non-executive directors," she says. "It also holds the chair to account for his running of the board."
Phipps says the hospice also has a clinical governance committee run entirely by medical staff. "We don't have management at that meeting, so there's never any conflict between what management would like and what the clinician thinks is best practice," she says.
At a time when some large private firms delivering public service contracts have been accused of paying low wages, the hospice is also committed to paying at least the living wage and matching salaries that are offered in the NHS. Staff who are members also get to vote on pay increases at the hospice. "Our people are our technology," says Phipps. "Last year, we designed a new contract and a new company handbook that gives members more control of their own pay."
The hospice tries to purchase many goods and services locally, although some equipment and drugs are still bought through the NHS supply chain for cost reasons. The hospice takes its impact on the environment seriously, which has led to it equipping its clinical staff with tough-pad tablet computers that allow them to access notes while in patients' homes. Phipps says: "This cuts our mileage costs by £10,000 a year. It means that staff don't have to come back to base to maintain their clinical records: they can do it on the go."
All its profits, which amounted to almost £443,000 on a turnover of almost £5.6m in 2013, are ploughed back into funding its services for beneficiaries and creating new projects. Some of the money goes directly to funding improvements that the staff would like to see. For example, reception staff have used their budget to make the reception area feel more homely, and a new pain clinic was set up after conversations between clinical staff and patients.
"Allowing staff to be budget-holders means they can see an idea that has potential and act on it without having to go through layers of red tape," says Phipps. "It took six weeks from having the idea to seeing the first patient in the pain clinic."
Perhaps most importantly, the hospice is now having a bigger social impact than before. Figures show that patient contacts have doubled to 10,000 a year since it made the move. "Becoming independent, then having the opportunity to receive contracted income and ask the public and companies to donate, has given us flexibility and the ability to support more people," says Phipps.