Care group growing in a challenged sector

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TEN years ago, Phil Burgan’s business operated four care homes. Today, it is a £100m turnover company which runs 144 sites.

After the collapse of the Southern Cross care homes operation last year, many would think the sector tarnished by association, but Leeds-based Maria Mallaband Care Group is expanding.

Mr Burgan, pictured, its chairman and CEO, says that half the business cares for elderly people who need to be looked after, and the rest is geared towards caring for people with autism.

MMCG has 3,200 clients and employs 4,000 staff and, from its HQ on Gelderd Road, Mr Burgan has a clear vision of how he wants the business to develop. He said: “We want to get to the point of building 10 new homes a year.

“We have got a very good team. We have grown this business very quickly.

“I do have high standards. In this business if you are not delivering good standards of care you will not be a financial success.

“I set out the strategy. We have to be flexible and amend that strategy. I pick and choose the opportunities we go for because we cannot go for everything.”

He added: “We are a fairly small player in Leeds itself. In Yorkshire we have about 12 homes. We started out here. Our main focus is in the south of England but most of our competition is also in the south of England.”

On the elderly care side of the business, MMCG concentrates largely on fee-paying clients who require high levels of support or who have dementia. Mr Burgan says that by charging the market rate for their care he can raise cash to buy or lease more homes and maintain standards.

Mr Burgan admitted that it is a difficult time for the care sector and said that some of his company’s growth is “unfortunately at other people’s expense” as homes elsewhere close. He added: “Out of 450,000 operations in the UK, 50,000 will go to the wall in the next few years.”

Mr Burgan said that in the care sector the cost of properties makes investment an expensive option - “when your business is predicated around properties it does not come cheap” - so linking up with investors and developers is important.

He admits that the Southern Cross group’s collapse gave the sector a bad image. Mr Burgan said: “It’s difficult because people’s perceptions of the sector are determined by the media and Southern Cross epitomised everything bad about the sector.

“I have seen hundreds and hundreds of care homes around the country and most that I see are doing a good job under constrained circumstances.”

Mr Burgan started MMCG after running a chain of chemists, Medimart, which he sold. He was then attracted to the elderly care sector. Later he began Autism Care UK which offers support for 18-65 year olds. These clients are introduced through local authorities and the cost of care can be up to £2,000 a week.

Mr Burgan says he is pleased at the success of his business. He said: “I am proud of the team. To have grown so much in such a challenging environment is a collective effort.”