The first cuts are the deepest

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.

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One response to “The first cuts are the deepest

  1. Need it have happened? I wonder sometimes. Around September 2008 I remember Sean Stannard Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog asking “Did Social Enterprise cause the credit crisis” He was referring to the sub-prime fiasco and the role of Fannie May and Freddie Mac. Such was the general perception of social enterprise at the time.

    I referred him to our critique of free market capitalism which we’d posted online for the first time a couple of months earlier. From our perspective it was social enterprise trying to warn about the impendihg crash rather than cause it.

    The dire situation of Eastern Europe was reason enough to make a call for large scale investment in social enterprise two years earlier. The aim being to leverage investment for the US into large scale propagation of localised microeconomic development aimed at investing in social objectives. At that time the response to a social business strategy was nothing less than hostile.

    I’d kind of assumed that social enterprises would work with each other but experience with one or two notable exceptions has generally proven differently. Like CSR, branding regularly trumps collaboration to the point of outright dishonesty in some cases.

    Our social purpose model was intended for sharing and placed in the public domain in that spirit.


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