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Jan Sheldon, CEO of St Martins based in Norwich, writes about the impact of increased staffing costs and why they need an inflationary uplift as part of our new Keep Our Doors Open blog series.

Our team are St Martins’ biggest asset; they are hard-working, compassionate and highly skilled professionals. It would be a big loss to the homeless sector if any of our 200 team members leave because they can’t afford to meet the rising cost of living.

For years we have benchmarked our salaries against the NJC pay scales and have implemented any agreed increase. In 2022/3 the pay offer was for a flat rate payment of £1,925 on each scale point, backdated to 1st April 2022. This equates to an average increase of 7%, and 9.8% for team members on the lowest scale.

At St Martins we are fortunate to have the reserves to meet this pay increase, but it  has wiped £321k off our 2022/23 budget. In 2023/24 not only do we need to find the additional £321k to cover the basic increase but also need to allow for a pay increase in 2023/24. We’ve made a provision for a 5% pay increase in the budget so in total we’re trying to find almost half a million pounds of savings and cost increases.

Many of our services were commissioned when inflation was a fraction of what it is now. Costs for energy, materials and resources have increased across the board, not to mention team member costs. Contracts to pay for these services have not met this increase. We are facing the decision to decline to provide services or fulfil them at a deficit, with the gap plugged by fundraising and shaving off costs wherever we can.

One way to make savings is by repairing white goods and other appliances instead of replacing them when they are broken or damaged. St Martins provides 234 bed spaces across two hostels, two residential care homes, temporary accommodation and numerous shared properties in Norwich. This amounts to a staggering number of appliances - 63 washing machines, 101 ovens, 100 microwaves, 28 dryers, plus multiple fridges, freezers, kettles and toasters. A member of St Martins 8-strong maintenance team completed an intensive two-week domestic appliance repair training course. This expertise will save money where replacement parts can be sourced at a fraction of the cost of buying new, especially for items that undergo heavy wear and tear. A broken washing machine was fixed at the cost of £14 rather than £250 new and avoided the cost of disposal. It is beneficial to the environment too and helps us fulfil our green pledges to reduce consumption.

Small savings will add up, but they can only help for so long. We can’t plug a funding gap indefinitely. Our local authorities want to do more, but without further funding from Government, their hands are tied. Bringing in an inflationary uplift for homelessness support makes sense to help services continue to support people in the current climate. Without it, we fear making really difficult decisions about our service in the near future.

Read more about our Keep Our Doors Open campaign