Empowering life choices, supporting business needs

Leading Scottish charity Inspire provides a range of services for adults and young people with learning disabilities and additional support needs in the North East of Scotland. 

CEO Karen Arthur and Director of Corporate Services Linda Gray explain how Johnston Carmichael’s expertise in the third sector has helped to streamline their day-to-day operations.

“Johnston Carmichael’s knowledge of the third sector has really helped and was a big attraction for us from the very start”, comments Inspire’s CEO Karen Arthur.

“We went through a tender process in 2014 and JC were by far the best of the companies we saw; their local knowledge is fantastic and we felt that local contact, with the firm being based in Aberdeen, was crucial to us as a business.

Our Director of Corporate Services, Linda Gray, built relationships with the JC Partners and Managers very quickly. Their team has such a great track record in the charity sector with Jean Main as lead Partner.

Karen Arthur

CEO, Inspire

Inspire supports 300 people with learning disabilities or additional support needs across the North East of Scotland through a variety of projects.

“Inspire PTL is the main charity, assisting people in their homes by providing support. Its subsidiary, Inspire Ventures, provides mainstream employment opportunities helping break down the barriers which people with learning disabilities and additional support needs might face.

“And Cafe Treehouse is our community interest company (CIC) based in Midmar – the aim of that is to create wealth which will go back into Ventures and support our training and employment schemes.

“Johnston Carmichael have been fantastic in helping with the CIC strategy; it’s fairly new to us as an organisation and they were exceptional with their knowledge sharing of how our CIC would fit into our group strategy and explaining how it would be reflected in our group accounts.”

JC provides Inspire with various services including payroll, audit, business solutions and tax. Finance comes under the remit of Linda Gray, who confirms that support from the team has been invaluable.

“JC started as our auditors but are now also our payroll providers, handling payroll for about 500 people a month. We’ve used Business Solutions for in-house accounting support and their advisers helped us to find a solution to some complex VAT questions which we were faced with. That was really significant for us as it gave us confidence we were doing the right thing in what is a very technical area.

“Having payroll done externally mitigates the risk to Inspire and the exposure of having just one person responsible for it. That’s been really good and has significantly streamlined our system.

“The regulations governing the charity sector change constantly and we need to keep abreast of that.

“Reserve accounting is a good example; as a charity, it’s something we need to review periodically but it’s easy to lose sight of, so we’ve done some training with JC’s Audit Director Laura Anderson and the team to make sure we all understand the implications. We’ve actually changed the ways we do things which means by the year end there aren’t significant year end adjustments.

“JC’s management accounts tool was also adapted for Inspire’s account systems and processes to help us better meet our business needs.”

“We were really struggling with the management accounting package – we needed a dashboard with meaningful management financial data without spending a lot of money or creating it ourselves.

“I spent a lot of time trying to manipulate data which proved difficult because of the type of system we have so we commissioned JC to create a dashboard in a succinct readable format. JC’s professional knowledge in getting to this report has been appreciated by the CEO, the Leadership Team and our Board as everyone feels confident in their reviewing of the information.”

“Using this new management tool has been really beneficial because it gives us more visual data which is especially useful for our board meetings and provides the essential information at a glance. The board now have access to the full account statement and can ask informed questions where previously the data just wasn’t available.”

Johnston Carmichael’s lengthy track record of third sector work has been a major benefit over the last 18 months.

“We face challenges around funding and in terms of the different service providers we have across Aberdeen and the Shire as well as all the regulations which the sector is subject to. We need to be sure we are always receiving up-to-date professional advice and Jean Main offers this; she is accessible and is always available to give professional comment when it is sought.”

 “The support Johnston Carmichael provides has refocused our board. We are now working in partnership with our audit advisers and having that positive working relationship on our doorstep means that we can really benefit from their knowledge, expertise and support.”

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