Digital disruption in NI social care sector key to saving providers hundreds of thousands of pounds per year

BY Fearghal McKinney, Co-Founder, PickaShift App

A recent economic study by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council showed that the overall contribution to the economy of the adult social care sector was over £800m - supporting employment for over 100,000 people here. Set against the context of such a small population these are significant numbers.

It also shows that the reliance on the social care sector is high and that it is a lifeline for many. Not only do nursing and residential care homes provide much-needed care for individuals, it also assists the family members and friends of those who need support.

Fearghal McKinney, PickaShift App

Fearghal McKinney, PickaShift App

The sector provides a range of jobs in local communities right across Northern Ireland and gives opportunity to those who work in the sector the chance to gain qualifications and skills which may not always be available in other sectors.

The NI Social Care Council pointed out in their report that the impact of sustainable jobs and chance to upskill collectively in this sector helps to knit together the social fabric of our villages and towns across Northern Ireland.

High staff costs

A vibrant local residential and nursing home offer is important for local communities, but they are expensive to run due to the high input costs. These homes often face significant bills when it comes to filling shifts at short notice because of illness or holiday cover. The home does not have a choice – the shift must be filled to comply. It means they often must turn to expensive agencies.

Ensuring that a home has the right staff in place at all times is often a difficult and expensive job for home owners. The care home sector is heavily regulated to ensure standards are met by health and social care providers so that qualified staff are on duty at all times. Failure to do so has consequences for the provider.

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Against the backdrop of pressured budgets, along with the strength of agencies in the market, homecare businesses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and increase productivity.

Technology provides solution

In December, the Adult Social Care Report ‘Power to People: Proposals to reboot Adult Social Care and Support in NI’ detailed that the use of technology in the sector is underutilised but has enormous potential to assist in the provision of care here.

As a response to this problem, we have developed a new app called PickaShift. Care homes using the app save in terms of costly administration, a bigger pool of certified available staff can benefit from more work and pay and the home owner can avoid paying the expensive agency.  Employers and staff both benefit, which ensures a consistent level of service provision for those in their care.

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The idea of the PickaShift app has been developed in direct response to the growing pressures that nursing and residential homes have found themselves in, due to a growing ageing population and the scarcity of supply of staff.

By helping to cut down on the administration process, and providing an alternative to expensive agency fees, Pickashift is helping to address these issues while also delivering significant savings. In some cases, this could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds for larger care home providers.

Gareth Planck from Eversheds Sutherland on 2018 Date Centre Growth

In 2018 data centre growth is expected to be even stronger. Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland outlines why having a local law firm with global reach in this area is vital.

Supporting data centre growth

Over the last 20 years, the demand for digital data has grown massively. Data centres now underpin our digital economy – for corporate IT services, digital media, financial services, mobile computing, social networking and internet access. Data centres have advanced dramatically over the past few years with outsourced data centre infrastructure in Europe likely to tip towards 40% by 2019.

The UK and Ireland are two of the most active data centre markets in the world today. With the demand for cloud storage growing, the need for local processing power closer to the customer base in Northern Ireland will become even more prevalent in 2018 as micro data centres begin to multiply. It will become increasingly important to have in place a local legal team with global connections.

Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland

Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland

 

This is due to fact that they will be best placed to understand the full range of tenant concerns, especially the complexities of different occupational structures (and the attendant tax and accounting treatments) and service level agreements. Data centres are energy-intensive, and electricity consumption is usually the single largest component of operational costs. We at Eversheds Sutherland also place an emphasis on thorough energy due diligence and – when handling leasing and customer contracts - clear and concise electricity charging regimes, particularly where the data centre is supported by private renewable energy sources.

Legal challenges

The legal challenges facing data centres are unique, requiring a distinct blend of specialist legal advice. The looming Brexit divorce will also add a layer of complexity and uncertainty that previously didn’t exist.

It is best if the legal team you appoint are immersed in the sector, not only understanding the legal issues but also having a deep understanding of the data centre market. For decades, we have advised data centre developers, owners, operators, funders, and enterprises that need or use them on matters associated with all types of data centres, including enterprise, wholesale, co-location and managed services facilities.

Our extensive experience in this area on a global basis allows us to anticipate and manage the many challenges that are part of developing, owning and financing complex data centres, including site selection, due diligence, tax and structuring issues, operational and regulatory considerations, leasing and customer contracts.

Consideration needs to be given to the speed and ability to build and operate a data centre as opposed to acquiring an existing data centre which is readily adaptable for use. The basis of the owner or operator occupation will differ between jurisdictions with varying implications.

As an example, freehold acquisitions represent the most flexible form of land ownership, but most costly (and sometimes the slowest route to market) whereas leasehold acquisitions give ownership for a limited period (though often on longer terms, with options to renew) and therefore can be an attractive proposition for landlords, subject to extensive restrictions and conditions.

On expiry of the lease, all interests revert back to the landlord, including ownership of buildings constructed on the land (subject of course to business tenancy considerations in Northern Ireland). Care needs to be taken in negotiating the terms of the lease to ensure the owner/operator (and its funder) has sufficient flexibility in the use and occupation of the land and buildings for the purposes of its operations, that the period of the lease is sufficient to enable full recovery of any capped costs, and that sufficient protections are incorporated into the lease for funders and key customers.

Funding data centre growth

We are also advising on the funding of data centre projects and typically a funder will have separate concerns to an owner or operator. They will want to ensure title to the land/equipment is good and marketable to enable it to take adequate security over it. They will usually want independent legal advice and complex financing documents to be put in place prior to releasing funds at closing. This could impact on the ownership structure and timescales for any development. With increasing global focus on sustainability, the energy consumption and efficiency of a data centre is a significant concern with a huge impact on operating costs.

Temperate climates offer opportunities to reduce operating costs for free air cooling data centres against their chilled water counterparts. Small changes in Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) can have a dramatic effect on energy costs (and often the costs arising from an increase in PUE will be a risk for the operator rather than the customer).

Even the most efficient data centres consume massive amounts of electricity, making energy-related strategic decisions key to successful development and operation. Interconnecting with the local grid and procuring electricity services at the most advantageous rates, including any economic development incentives, requires in-depth knowledge of the regulatory framework in Northern Ireland and practical experience in the relevant energy markets which we have.

Article first published in Business First Magazine

Dr Eamon Phoenix to be special guest at Brain Injury Matters charity event

Leading historian Dr Eamon Phoenix is set to give a special talk entitled ‘From Penal Laws to Insurrection: Belfast, the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion’ in support of Brain Injury Matters at the end of the month.

Pictured with Dr Eamon Phoenix are Brain Injury Matters service users Margaret Kinnard and Jean Mc Veigh.

Pictured with Dr Eamon Phoenix are Brain Injury Matters service users Margaret Kinnard and Jean Mc Veigh.

The charity event hosted by well-known broadcaster Noel Thompson takes place on 25th January at 7pm at the Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Office.

The event will also have music from a section of the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra and Irish Harpist, James Patience.

Tickets are £10 and can be purchased by emailing info@braininjurymatters.org.uk or calling 028 9070 5125.

Belfast City Council announces new customer service charter for planning application system

On top of other recommendations being introduced by Belfast City Council, a new Customer Charter with ten operating principles to reduce back-logs in the planning application system and speed up transactions.

The new customer service charter will incliude: 

• Customers have the right information in support of an application before submitting it;
• Consultations with the right people take place at the beginning of the process and follow correct consultation procedures;
• Site visits happen as soon as are practically possible; no later than 21 days after an application is valid;
• Customer requirements are fully understood and needs are met, such as timescales for projects;
• The ‘path’ of an application is determined as soon as possible, whether it will be approved, refused or changes needed;
• Customers know our views on their application; and opportunity should be given to address problems as soon as possible, where there is a solution;
• A Pre-Application Discussion service is provided to identify issues at the beginning of the process and before the application is made;
• Unacceptable applications will be determined as quickly as possible in the interests of the efficiency of the overall service;
• Where there is an obligation to take account of the advice from technical consultees, there will be a proportionate approach to the handling of each planning application; and
• Work will be kept moving at all times with an understanding that any blockage in the process will cause delays.

Political Forward Look 2018

Political Forward Look 2018

Futurology is fraught with danger at the best of times for those in the political advisory industry, but must be attempted to navigate the bumps in the road over the next 12 months. However, in a world of increasing uncertainty, there are several political key moments in 2018 that are nailed on.

New Sinn Fein President

Before the end of February, Sinn Fein will hold a special Ard Fheis to elect the party’s next President and successor to Gerry Adams. It would be a huge surprise if anyone other than Mary Lou McDonald becomes the new leader due to her already prominent position in Irish politics. A challenge for her will be to increase her recognition levels in the north.

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Irish Election

Recently there was a distinct possibility of a snap general election prior the resignation of now former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Inevitably, there will be a general election in the Republic of Ireland. A watching brief will be kept on the rise of Sinn Fein. With a new president in place and renewed vigour, they could become a minority coalition partner in the south, and with their status in the north, become the strongest party across the island of Ireland. The next Irish presidential election will take place in November 2018 at the latest, so there could be change on many fronts.

Also in May, we will see UK local elections. It will be interesting to see if any further damage can be done to the Conservative party at the regional level and what sort of de-stabilising factor that could have at Westminster for the government.

Budget Promises

In the November budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond promised that the issue of VAT on hospitality services and Air Passenger Duty in Northern Ireland would be reviewed and presented back to him before the next expected budget later in 2018. Frankly, these reviews are well overdue and need to be accelerated as they are two economic levers that we should have had at our disposal years ago.

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Brexit

All roads still lead to 29 March 2019, the UK’s last day of being in the European Union. Saying no more. 

City Deal for Belfast

Also in the Budget, Hammond outlined that a consultation will be brought forward to develop a city deal for Belfast. This city deal status gives local areas specific powers to help support economic growth and job creation. Further shape has yet to be put on how and when this consultation happens.

Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood, has also stated that he has assurances from the Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire that the British government will commit to a city deal for Derry.

Renewable Heat

The Renewable Heath Incentive (RHI) inquiry will continue with the extensive list of witnesses appearing in front of Sir Patrick Coughlin to outline their role in the development and delivery of the scheme. Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, is expected to give evidence as legal teams wade through 880,000 pages of documents.

Good Friday Agreement – Twenty Years on

April will see the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The British Council will mark this milestone with the key international ‘Peace and Beyond’ conference, a three-day high-profile event which will bring together practitioners, academics, policy makers and young leaders from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Lebanon, the Western Balkans and Colombia in Belfast. 

NI Affairs Select Committee

The NI Affairs Select Committee has just closed its call for evidence for its new inquiry on ‘Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit’.

The inquiry will look at solutions for restoring devolved bodies and accountability as well as investigate the need for further intervention from the UK Government. It will also examine the impact of the lack of an Executive on communities, public services and businesses and what can be done in the absence of an Executive to ensure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard.

Witnesses are likely to be called to give evidence in the coming weeks, once the clerks have had some time to sift through the submissions.

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NI Assembly

As we sit now, it is highly unlikely that the Assembly and Executive will return any time soon. Relationships between the parties and the key players seem to be very fractured regardless of what issues are on, or off, the table. The two main parties will continue to drive their own channels and increase support from their own bases.

In the absence of this level of government, the opportunity exists for local councils to play a greater role as the delivery agents of economic development, democratic services and civic responsibility.

New NI developed app 'PickaShift' set to revolutionise care home staffing

An innovative new App, PickaShift, is expected to save care home providers in Northern Ireland hundreds of thousands of pounds per year while ensuring all staff shifts are covered. 

The app which connects care workers and their employers in residential and nursing homes, informs staff quickly about shifts that have become available at short notice and encourages them to pick up those shifts at an increasingly favourable rate until the shift is claimed.

New NI developed ‘PickaShift’ App set to revolutionise care home staffing. Launching the new app are PickaShift founders, Peter Graham, Fearghal McKinney and Liam Lavery.

New NI developed ‘PickaShift’ App set to revolutionise care home staffing. Launching the new app are PickaShift founders, Peter Graham, Fearghal McKinney and Liam Lavery.

In the process, the home saves valuable time and money by avoiding lengthy periods ringing staff and saves on expensive agency fees.

The team behind the new app include experienced care home providers Liam Lavery and Peter Graham and former MLA and health spokesperson, Fearghal McKinney. The app took almost a year to develop with a sizable investment before bringing it to market.

Fearghal McKinney, one of the founders of PickaShift said:

“The care home sector is heavily regulated to ensure standards are met by health and social care providers so that qualified staff are on duty at all times. Failure to do so has consequences for the provider.”

“Nursing and residential homes often face significant costs when it comes to filling shifts at short notice because of illness or holiday cover. The home does not have a choice - the shift must be filled to comply. It means they often must turn to expensive agencies.”

Former MLA and Health spokesperson Fearghal McKinney, one of the 'PickaShift' founders

Former MLA and Health spokesperson Fearghal McKinney, one of the 'PickaShift' founders

“As a response to this problem, we have developed PickaShift. In practical terms, the use of PickaShift means that the care home using the app will save in terms of costly administration and that a bigger pool of certified available staff can benefit from more work.  For employers and staff, both sides benefit, which ensures a consistent level of service provision for those in their care.”

Liam Lavery and Peter Graham both care home providers and founders of PickaShift added:

“The idea of the PickaShift app was developed in direct response to the growing pressures that nursing and residential homes have found themselves in due to a growing ageing population and the scarcity of supply of staff.”

“Against the backdrop of pressured budgets, along with the strength of agencies in the market, homecare businesses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and increase productivity.”

“By helping to cut down on the administration process, and providing an alternative to expensive agency fees, Pickashift can help address these issues and provide significant savings.”

“When providing care, it is important that there is continuity and familiarity with the care workers and those they are taking care of. Pickashift works as it helps us as care home providers be more efficient, fill gaps in shift patterns and provides work and more shifts for employees seeking to earn more.”

How ‘PickaShift works: 

  • Phase One:  The home elects to use Pickashift and encourages its full and part-time nursing and care staff to download the app to their phones or mobile devices.
  • Phase Two: When a shift needs filled at short notice, and there is a potential of an agency fee being paid, the home administrator puts it on the Pickashift system. The app alerts staff that a shift needs filled and encourages them, through an auction process, to bid for that shift.  With this initial simple process the home has already cut down on costs in terms of telephone calls and time.
  • Phase Three: The auction process.  The homes aim is to avoid the expensive agency fee.  In order to do so it may be prepared to pay a little more to its staff.  Using its unique tool Pickashift invites full-time and part-time staff to participate in a time-bound upward auction which they can bid into.  If someone wants the shift they bid by simply hitting a button and accepting it.  If not, each subsequent step of the auction becomes increasingly attractive until someone finally bids.

New NI Affairs Select Committee Inquiry Announced

The Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee has announced a new inquiry on 'Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit.'

The inquiry will look at solutions for restoring devolved bodies and accountability as well as investigate the need for further intervention from the UK Government. It will also examine the impact of the lack of an Executive on communities, public services and businesses and what can be done in the absence of an Executive to ensure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard. 

Deadline for written submissions is 29th December.

More here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/northern-ireland-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/devolution-and-democracy-in-northern-ireland-inquiry-17-19/commons-written-submission-form/

Quick overview of next steps for Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is to undergo its first leadership change for 35 years after Gerry Adams has announced his plans to stand down. 

The safe money is on Mary Lou McDonald to take over with the transition expected to happen early next year.

What happens next?

• The process for appointing a new leader will be decided by the newly elected Ard Comhairle who is expected to meet in the next two weeks.

• They are expected to set the date for a special Ard Fheis which will most likely take place early next year.

• A motion was also backed at the Ard Fheis to hold a special conference about entering government as a coalition partner in the Republic.

• Northern leader Michelle O’Neill has ruled herself out of the running for the leadership position.

New Ard Comhairle

• Martina Anderson MEP, Michelle O’Neill MLA, Lynn Boylan MEP, Megan Fearon MLA, Cllr Mairead Farrell, Senator Marie Devine, Sean Murray, Matt Carthy MEP, Chris Hazzard MP, Eoin O’Brion TD, Mícheál Mac Donncha, David Cullinane TD.

• Conor Murphy MLA was elected Treasurer with Pearse Doherty TD. Declan Kearney MLA was elected Chairperson. The General Secretary is Dawn Doyle.

New £100m NI Investment Fund

A new £100m NI Investment Fund has been launched by the Department of Finance.

CBRE Capital Advisors have been appointed to manage the Fund for 15 years.  

Agreed by the previous Executive it will focus on investment in the areas of regeneration, office and low carbon projects to deliver economic growth and is expected play a significant role in supporting private sector investment in key areas of local development over the next decade

It will lever in private finance and reinvest the £100 million over this period.

The main areas targeted for investment through this initiative are:

·        mixed use site development;

·        offices; industrial,

·        warehousing and distribution facilities;

·        research and development facilities;

·        site remediation and access;

·        other physical development that supports economic growth; energy efficiency, energy storage; energy generation from solar, wind, hydro and waste to energy projects

CBRE will be overseen by a Scrutiny Board, consisting of three private sector members and two public sector members.

The Chair will be Stephen Kirkpatrick, who has significant senior banking experience with Bank of Ireland.

The £100 million will be provided to CBRE in three tranches, with the initial £40 million tranche of funding expected to be disbursed in January 2018.

Further tranches will then depend on CBRE meeting certain commitment and disbursement targets.

Brain Injury Matters Sports & Disability Conference to take place on 23rd Nov

Brain Injury Matters, the charity dedicated to supporting people with Acquired Brain Injury to rebuild their lives, is set to host a seminal conference on sport and disability in Northern Ireland.

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The ‘ReSport’ conference supported by Capita will take place at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast on Thursday 23rd November and is set to explore the benefits of sport for people with disabilities, such as spinal cord injury, stroke, acquired brain injury, cerebral palsy or intellectual disability.

The line-up of speakers will range from medical professionals, sports coaches and several international guests who are expected to provide insights into the contribution of involvement in sports to the process of rehabilitation and recovery, in physical, psychological (cognitive and emotional) and social functioning.

It will explore the potential contribution of sport to disability and the promotion of wellbeing, social inclusion and quality of life.

Speakers will include:

  • Dr Suzanne Maguire, Consultant in Rehabilitation, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust;
  • Prof Aidan Moran, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Director of Psychology Research Laboratory, School of Psychology, University College Dublin;
  • Jasna Vešligaj Damiš, Director Center Naprei, Maribor, Slovenia.

Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme, the conference will be hosted by Brain Injury Matters NI along with other European partner organisations.

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Dr Suzanne Maguire, Consultant in Rehabilitation, Musgrave Park Hospital said:

“Sport and exercise plays a vital part in the rehabilitation process and contributes towards building a positive and valued lifestyle. This conference will allow us in the medical profession to share our learning and experience of the practical outcomes of the patients that we work with on a daily basis.”

“Collaboration plays an important role in the development and rehabilitation of those that we work with and often it takes a range of professionals to support each individual.”

“Sport as a method of rehabilitation should be valued as it assists not only with physical development, but in terms of the positive psychological and social impacts that it has.”

Fiona McCabe, Chief Executive, Brain Injury Matters said:

“The purpose of this conference is to promote awareness of the potential for sport to aid rehabilitation and community reintegration for those who are living with a disability.”

“Our aim is to make sure that this event offers practical knowledge and skills for those working with disabilities in the field of sport for rehabilitation.”

“We are keen to establish a network of clinicians and sports specialists to exchange expertise, and work collaboratively and we hope that this conference will be the main driver for the development of this emerging group.”