“One step on a journey”

To parliament on Tuesday for the latest meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise (APPG). The mood was upbeat with Chris White MP, the new chair of the group, discussing the success of his Private Members Bill – The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which obliges public sector commissioners to consider wider social value in commissioning and procurement.

White was clear that the Act, which will be implemented in January 2013, is ‘one step on a journey’ towards commissioning that takes full account of the extra positive social change generated when public bodies buy services from social enterprises, pointing out that ‘the hard bit comes now’.

Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, agreed with that assessment saying “you’ve got to keep holding our feet to the fire”. He also outlined government plans to set up a commissioning academy which, along with guidance on the implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, will support commissioners in making more informed decisions.

Having heard both White and Hurd speak several times, it’s clear that they’re both sincere in the their support for social enterprise, and that their knowledge and understanding of the issues goes well beyond the usual bluster and platitudes. Whether or not you’re a supporter of the Conservative Party, these two are the good guys when it comes to social enterprise.

What left me feeling slightly less upbeat than some of the others at the meeting on Tuesday is that – in terms of the Coalition government’s actions so far – I don’t believe that the good guys are winning. The Public Services (Social Value) Act is a potentially important piece of legislation but there are more direct ways that government can supporting commissioning for social value if it wants to.

One of the most of obvious is, in situations where central government is the commissioner, it can commission for social value itself. New contracts for back-to-work services provided a great opportunity for the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to do that. Instead, the Work Programme took an approach so anti-social that DWP ministers will be relieved that the Home Office is abolishing ASBOs – with massive contracts dished out to massive private companies, including those with a track record of failure, and charities and social enterprises left with inequitable sub-contracts if there were lucky or the expectation of that they’d provide services for free if they weren’t.

The Health and Social Act 2012 also provided an opportunity for central government to demonstrate its support for social value and social enterprises somewhere within the incredible collage of overlapping commissioning process that health secretary, Andrew Lansley and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners expended over 18 months of political energy creating.

At the beginning of the process, Lansley memorably pledged to create ‘the largest social enterprise sector the world’ but it turned out this apparently just meant that he wanted more health services to be provided by organisations that weren’t the government – irrespective of whether or not they delivered additional social value.

Ultimately, the government’s overall direction of travel in terms of public services over the past two years has been primarily down the route favoured by the organisations Chris White described as ‘Megacorps’ – large outsourcing specialists that make huge profits from taxpayers money and pay their directors £multi-million salaries.

Big Society Capital’s stimulation of the social investment market may or may not enable significant numbers of new social enterprises to start-up and scale up to the point where they can deliver more but, for those who are delivering what would otherwise be public services, there isn’t going to be some other magic source of revenue that will enable them to work as businesses if public sector agencies don’t buy their services.

If the government – as a corporate entity – genuinely supports social enterprise and public services that generate additional social value then spending ministers have got to maintain that position when it matters.



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3 responses to ““One step on a journey”

  1. jeffmowatt

    Consider this David, a statement from our 2004 business plan, with the primary focus of tackling poverty in the UK.

    “Traditional capitalism is an insufficient economic model allowing monetary outcomes as the bottom line with little regard to social needs. Bottom line must be taken one step further by at least some companies, past profit, to people. How profits are used is equally as important as creation of profits. Where profits can be brought to bear by willing individuals and companies to social benefit, so much the better. Moreover, this activity must be recognized and supported at government policy level as a badly needed, essential, and entirely legitimate enterprise activity.”

    So there’s an impact, albeit 8 years later, on government policy.

    Back then the APPG on Social Enterprise and one of it’s current members Baroness Thornton were among those I wrote to about this ‘profit for purpose’ form of business. Both disregarded me.

    I note immediately that ‘showcase’ is a rather prominent word in the pupose of this APPG. It’s political language for crony culture, as I’ve learned.to my cost.

    For want of support, that cost has been considerable. I note that the support most needed then, PR, may be acquired by entering the Social Enterprise Awards for 2012. In 2006, having joined the SEC I’d been told that “your area of work lies beyond the focus of our work”

    Imagine healthcare run the same way, with only those aliments deemed interesting, or people who win competitions, being treated.

    Today’s runners up are the one million children hungry in the UK. A situation that may not have come to be, had this showcasing strategy been displaced to support all those investing in social objectives.

    In the work just published when I joined the SEC, a blueprint for action where the economic crisis was already being felt, we’d said of those in poverty:

    “They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way. ”

    The colleague who’d challenged the corporate culture 16 years ago, had gone on to source a poverty relief project in Siberia where Deloitte, a corporate outsourcer, had floundered. According to locals, most of the funds had gone toward their consultancy fees. In 2011 he’d found his efforts to source social enterprise initiative hijacked by a consortium which included PwC and Erste Bank, to whom we’d introduced our proposal in their Social Business Tour of Eastern Europe.


    If Chris White really wants to help , he can help acquire compensation for use of our IP such that the funds are directed toward the children who were intended to benefit.


  2. Beanbags admin


    Not sure there’s really a lot I can offer that would address your concerns. I’m not an expert in IP around business plans. It’s not really for me to comment on why Baroness Thornton didn’t respond to your correspondence in 2004 and, eight years on, it’s probably not for her either. That said, as an SEUK member, I’m sure you’d be welcome to attend a future meeting of the APPG.

    I think what recent developments do show is that – with the passing of the Public Services (Social Value) Act and some of the Cabinet Office initiatives – some politicians and bits of government are now moving beyond rhetoric about social enterprise. The problem is that so far they’re not the politicians and bits of government that control most of the money.


    • jeffmowatt

      David, I didn’t renew membership of SEC after 2006. It soon became obvious that showcasing was selective and after responding to solicitations for input, with no acknowledgement, I told them I could be ignored anywhere without paying for the privilege.

      What I’m drawing to the attention of you and other readers is how the showcasing strategy can lead to being totally disregarded.

      What MJ Ray reveals about the relationship between ICOF, SWRDA and RISE-SW sheds some light on why our participation wasn’t welcome.

      Though our international work was outside the SEC’s focus. Within a couple of years Jonathan Bland who led it at the time had set up Social Business International. By this time, I’d established a reasonably sized international social business group on Linkedin. I made contact through the SBI site, commented on the blog (comments unpublished) and invited participants to join the discussion on Linkedin. No response.

      It wasn’t entirely surprising to see that what the EU Social Business Consultation ended up with, bore great resemblance to the paper we’d published online in 2007. That’s why I raised the case with my MEP, and he, in turn, with the EU commissioner.

      USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had a prompt in February 2008, reminding them of the strategy plan and the plight of those disabled and in institutions where they were essential farmed for profit. I surmise that vested interest in moves toward European market integration did not sit well with the prospect of exposing widespread neglect. It was clear USAID were stonewalling us.

      Clearly, they were interested in a social enterprise initiative, but without this major focus. Doing it themselves would be challenged as IP violation , so they pulled in the British Council, perhaps unaware that we were a British business in the British Council’s supply chain. Erste Bank, who’d expressed an interest when I’d first introduced our paper to them, went quiet on me, to show up as one of the partners in this initiative.

      Last month, After 6 years of defamation, the issue we raised in 2006 was the subject of a 90 minute BBC4 documentary on Ukraine’s Forgotten Children. As you may read, all obstacles in our efforts were publicly funded.



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