So said Phillip Blond in an interesting comment piece in the Observer on Sunday 3rd October. Blond is director of the right-leaning think-tank ResPublica and author of Red Tory. Blond’s basic thesis (as I’m sure he’d call it; his schtick, his thing, his gimmick, if you prefer) is that Britain has been broken by the competing ideologues of right (free marketeers) and left (statists) and that only a steady stream of carefully wrought, contrarian ideas from well-paid policy wonks in groovy think-tanks can fix it.
The thing that most caught my eye in the Observer piece was his glowing praise for Sandwell Community Caring Trust, a residential care charity externalised from the local authority in 1997.
Blond notes that according to the Social Enterprise Coalition, under Sandwell Community Caring Trust’s delivery
…costs have fallen from 22% of turnover in 1997 to less than 6% today. Staff sickness levels fell from 22 days a year in 1997 to 0.3 days in 2007, turnover spent directly on frontline care up from 62 % in 1997 to more than 82% in 2006. A mutualised approach improved performance and pay. In 2006 residential care for the elderly cost the local authority £657 per person per week, the trust has reduced this cost to £328 per person per week, and residents are happier – this really is more for less.
These are of course impressive figures. But it’s the “more for less” bit at the end that concerns me. The purpose of social enterprise isn’t more for less. It’s delivering the best value possible, delivering greater social benefit… And achieving the best and fairest deal possible for employees. If social enterprises aren’t doing that then they might as well be private businesses.
So, does anyone know what has happened to wages under the SCCT model? If the business has managed to achieve all this while also raising carers’ pay, improving their terms and conditions and generally doing something about the appalling levels of working poverty in the care professions, then that really would be news. I’m not knocking SCCT; I’m just a bit suspicious of Blond’s fulsome praise…