CSR is a tainted acronym. Until recently, it’s tended to mean Corporate Social Responsibility – (with honorable exceptions which I hope we’ll see more of) the process through which massive corporations divest themselves of moral responsibility for the social impact of 99.5% of their activities by building a branded basketball court (for example) on a deprived estate.
Now CSR also means Comprehensive Spending Review. Yesterday’s was not the first Comprehensive Spending Review conducted by a UK government but it’s made an impact on the public consciousness because the decisions taken mean hundreds of thousands of people are getting fired, while millions are losing benefits and millions more will soon be receiving worse public services.
So far, the public reactions from some of the people I like and respect in the world of social enterprise have been either pragmatic or relatively positive. I don’t think my social enterprise friends are wrong – Rob Greenland’s line on this is more or less the same as mine – but there are some challenges about how we express our feelings about what’s going to happen as a result of massive cuts in public spending.
The grim reality of the experience for many people in public sector jobs is they’re currently wondering whether they’re going to have a job in a few weeks time, and how they’re going to pay the bills at the end of the month. In the social enterprise world we call that experience ‘Thursday’. Or ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’, ‘Friday’, ‘Saturday’ or ‘Sunday’ (when many of us are often still at the office).
The difference for public sector workers (and their families) is that they never signed up for a ride on this rollercoaster of risk. Many of those ‘back office’ and ‘admin’ people whose desks are located too far from the door for them to be considered ‘frontline’ service providers have made the choice to spend large parts of their lives enduring all the challenges of working within large, bureaucratic structures, in exchange for job security and a decent pension. Irrespective of who we reckon is responsible for this situation, it’s a nightmare for those who will lose their jobs. And while the cuts will provide opportunities for some social enterprises, they’ll also bury others.
Like Rob, my aim is for Social Spider is that we can work with others – other social enterprises, charities, the public sector, former public sector employees, private sector businesses – to preserve the best of what we’ve got and develop new work to help hold society together, increasing support and opportunities for those that currently don’t get enough of either. Getting on with it is our job and it’s a job worth doing but these are not times for celebration.