Trust me – employee ownership works for Highland Home Carers

Jocelyn-Mitchell-1Highland Home Carers was established in 1994 to provide the first independent domiciliary care and support service in Inverness and the wider area. The business enables many people to remain in their own homes when otherwise they might have been moved into institutional care. The company increasingly works in partnership with NHS Highland to improve the quality of health and social care services in local communities.

Ten years ago, Highland Home Carers became employee-owned. Here, Jocelyn Mitchell – care worker and Chair of the Trustees – explains how the trustees ensure the company is run properly.

The trustee role is an important one within Highland Home Carers.  We represent the majority shareholding and it is vital that we hold the board to account – just like shareholders in conventional companies.

It is not our job to run the company, but we do have to sanction major decisions that could affect the long term stability of the business.  A few years ago the board restructured the company’s loan, opting to move the debt to a more favourable lender. This meant higher repayments in the short term, but would result in us being debt-free in a few years.  As trustees, we had to be satisfied that the impact of higher payments had been fully considered and that it would be for the company’s long term benefit.

We have grown significantly in the past two years. With 350 employees covering 8069 square miles, quality of delivery of care is central to all we do.  One of the issues we wanted to explore with the board was how we could ensure our high standards would be maintained when we were undergoing a period of growth. Our MD fully explained the measures put in place – as employees, we are able to see the consequences of board and management decisions.

Our board is superb, with a mix of management, elected employees and two experienced non-executives.  We haven’t had to exercise our veto over any decisions but there is no complacency. We continue to challenge and ask for explanations.

We are quite unusual in that none of our directors are trustees – how could we hold the board to account if some of us were involved in board decisions? There are six trustees – three elected by our colleagues and three appointed by the board. Two of the appointed trustees are also employees. The sixth is an independent trustee who is not an employee and supports us in our role.

There is a myth that if employees own the company then they will make decisions in their own interests and lose sight of the sustainability of the business.  That can’t happen here. We have a responsibility to current and future employees. This year we are celebrating our 20th year, 10 of which have been as an employee-owned company.  As trustees, it is our job to ensure we are still here for the next 20 years and far beyond, while still providing the best care and being a great place to work.

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