Blog

Social Enterprise London will offer guidance to public sector workers considering social enterprise externalisations

SEL has just announced that it will very shortly publish a guide for public sector workers who are considering whether their service, team or department might be successfully externalised as a social enterprise. The guide should be available online in a week or so.

Finditinbirmingham offers breakfast with the lenders

If you can’t get business finance from the banks, then this is the event for you.  — Steve Walker, ART

Finditinbirmingham’s September networking breakfast focuses on business finance — and how to get it. Register now for this 2nd September event by going to the Finditinbirmingham website, here.

Representatives from Arrow Small Business Finance, ART, and investbx will all be on hand to explain how they can help with business lending for both conventional and social businesses. You can book a five minute one-to-one with any or all of these providers and get a pastry or bacon and egg breakfast into the bargain!

Make sure you don’t miss it by booking early.

Have our sector representative bodies painted themselves into a corner?

In the past few days the government has announced that it will scrap a £3.3m scheme headed up by the Plunkett Foundation which was offering support to communities seeking to turn local pubs threatened with closure into community-owned co-ops.

And now the Cabinet Office has announced the first twelve ‘pathfinder’ projects (that name will be changed, I bet you!) which will test the spinning-off of public services as mutuals. (You can read Francis Maude’s article here.)

And who will be helping to advise these would-be mutuals? Admittedly, Sunderland Home Care and Baxi are due to be involved, but these seem outweighed by private sector corporates — KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCooper, John Lewis, and Tribal.

Am I the only one that sees key social enterprise and co-op bodies such as SEC and Co-operativesUK being marginalised in this? Or have they in fact painted themselves into a corner? Our key national membership organisations have little if any hands-on development capacity, and on the other hand have spent recent years investing heavily in ‘strategic voice’ functions to which it is increasingly evident no one in government has the slightest intention of listening any longer. Isn’t it time for a rethink — and fast, before those membership subs start to dry up…?

‘Big Society’ — is this a child that co-operators, social enterprises and VCOs should be claiming paternity of?

Two excellent recent articles in the Guardian have taken dramatically opposing positions on the coalition’s ‘big society’ idea.

Here, Jonathan Freedland argues that Cameron and the coalition are the wrong bearers of the right message, and that those of progressive politics should resist rejecting the idea out of hand. There is a baby in that bathwater, he argues, to which we have at the very least a decent ‘claim of paternity’ as it reflects our values of co-operation, mutualism, self-help and self-organisation.

More  recently, Polly Toynbee here takes an opposing view. One of the lessons of post-communism, she argues, was to watch the tragic unfolding of social implosion once the communist regimes fell, largely because there was no heritage or tradition of voluntary and community action able to step in to the vacuum left by failed statism. An interesting view.

But she goes on to argue that that in the UK voluntary sector activity is made possible overwhelmingly by state financial support (currently in the form of contracts and the purchasing of services rather than grants, as of old) and that this expenditure too is being slashed, especially by public institutions looking for cheaper (and less confrontational) alternatives to making their own workers redundant. Hardly news to anyone familiar with the sector, but interesting to see this being argued in an informed way in the national press.

Of even greater significance, perhaps, is the news that the women’s equality organisation, The Fawcett Society, has launched a legal challenge to the budget on the grounds that the Treasury has broken the law by failing to carry out an equalities impact assessment which would have revealed — as the Fawcett Society’s research has shown — that the public spending cuts being pursued by government impact disproportionately on women. You can read coverage of the case here in the Guardian and here on the BBC news website.

Women in low paid and part-time public sector employment are more likely than men to be hit by wage freezes and job cuts because they are in the majority in these kinds of jobs. Cuts in benefits and tax credits will also hit women harder than men. The Fawcett Society’s initial analysis of the proposed budget cuts indicated that almost three-quarters of the cuts would be met from women’s incomes. You can read their coverage here.

The significance of all this is that it has huge implications for how civil society organisations choose to align themselves with big society ideas. To put it bluntly, there will be many currently trying to work out how to capitalise on the good parts of the big society agenda while minimising the potential for reputational risk with the wider public.

Enta hosts week-long visit by Ernesto Sirolli

Ernesto Sirolli, the world famous community enterprise guru and founder and head of the Sirolli Institute has spent the past week in Brum, a guest of Enta CIC, no less. You can read the full story here and here. Sirolli has spent time mentoring Jason Fry, Enta’s ‘enterprise facilitator’ — the first in Birmingham — who is working with fledgling social enterprises amongst Enta’s clients.

Well done, Enta.

Stirchley Community Market makes national press

Just spotted this very interesting item in the Guardian Society pages — ‘Pride of Place’, an excellent short piece about co-ops, social enterprises and community activists in Stirchley getting together to found an alternative, ethical market on a car park.

The community market is mentioned here on Loaf’s blog, here on the Bournville Village blog,  here on John Charlton’s photography blog, and of course here on its own blog/information pages.

Interesting times. There seems to be a real surge in grassroots social enterprise activity in Brum.

LEPs — ‘loose associations’ or ‘formal legal entities’?

Further to this post, Steve Walker at ART has drawn my attention to this informative account in the Local Government Chronicle online of how the battle for LEPs — the Local Enterprise Partnerships which will take over many of the functions of the closing RDAs — is shaping up.

The LGC claims to have uncovered tensions in Whitehall, with distinct differences of opinion between Cable’s Dept for Business, Innovation & Skills and Pickles’ Dept for Communities & Local Government regarding not just the shape and nature of LEPs but also the freedom individual partnerships will have to determine how they ‘do’ LEPs.

LEPs are currently expected to share something like £1bn between them — 65% less than the combined RDAs’ budgets — and consequently many consider the LEPs debate somewhat academic in that they will not be rich sources of finance. The issue, then, if we are realistic, is not just about what LEPs will do and the powers they will have, but how little it will require in order for them to be able to operate effectively.

But the real interest, I suspect, certainly for onlookers to this debate, is that LEPs have become a canary in the mine issue — capable of indicating whether or not the government really does believe its own rhetoric of openness, self-determination and non-centralisation… We shall see. At the moment the canary is still singing…but we are listening closely…

There are some interesting comments below — Kevin Maton’s (SEWM) add useful information, do take a look.

“No one wants to be the horse’s backside”

Just moments ago I received an email from the chief exec at BVSC, Brian Carr, in which he said, “No one wants to be the horse’s backside.” At first I thought this referred to a telephone conversation we had had just a few minutes earlier. In which, I hasten to add, I thought I had been talking perfect sense.

I was relieved to find it a reference instead to this fascinating speech by Greg Clarke, minister for decentralisation.

This speech probably says more about the political principles underpinning the big society idea and how we should expect to see it implemented than anything else I have so far read.

The coalition government is rewriting the public sector rule book at a furious rate. And what I find most interesting, is that anything that stands in the way of this — such as the legacy of Thatcherite command-and-control economic and social engineering — is also being retrospectively rewritten. A new ideology is being hammered out in front of our eyes. Whether this new ideology is being forged on the anvil of truth, or thrown together hurriedly from whatever old scrap comes to hand is for you to decide. But yet again, it is a quite brilliant speech — clear, focused and thought-provoking.

Sector asked to help meet ‘savings challenge’ as Cabinet Office cuts £11m from third sector programmes

There’s a good, clear piece in Social Enterprise online here spelling out the cuts the Cabinet Office is making to social enterprise and third sector programmes as part of its economy drive.

£1.3m will be cut from Capacitybuilders, £130k from the RDAs’ budgets to support social enterprise, and much of the balance from the national youth volunteering scheme, v. I always thought a project that couldn’t even afford a capital letter would be doomed.

Francis Maude and Nick Hurd have published an open letter to the sector asking it to use its expertise and experience to identify those areas in which the cuts will fall heaviest and cause the greatest problems. You can read the letter here.

Big Lottery goes Big Local

Here’s a development which signals that new coalition government policies — the emphasis on localism, on grassroots organisations operating at the neighbourhood level — are beginning to reshape the priorities of independent funders, including the Lottery.

BIG has just announced the launch of its new BIG Local programme, £200m in grants dedicated to between 100-150 urban and rural neighbourhoods which have a poor track record in securing funding. You can read about the new programme here on BIG’s website and here in Third Sector Online.

The first 50 localities have now been announced. In the West Midlands they are:

  • Shropshire – Gobowen, St Martins and Weston Rhyn
  • Stoke-on-Trent – Chell Heath and Fegg Hayes
  • Dudley – East Coseley
  • Sandwell – Grace Mary and Lion Farm
  • Birmingham – Bromford and Firs Estate
  • Wyre Forest – Horsefair, Broadwaters and Greenhill in Kidderminster
But in addition BIG is inviting applications from appropriately skilled organisations to take on the job of establishing a new independent Trust to manage the BIG Local programme. The Trust will be a new company limited by guarantee.
Here’s the guide for organisations planning to apply to run the new Trust. Applicants have until 2pm on Thursday 12th August to submit an EOI.

Regional government in a pickle

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government has issued a press release confirming the abolition of regional government. This affects regional development agencies, government offices of the regions but is also likely to spell the end of regional services such as the Business Link service — especially as the RDAs were the contract holders for the Business Link network. You can read the full text of Pickles’ press release here.

A letter from Trudi Elliott, director of Government Office for the West Midlands, which has been circulated to stakeholders confirms that GOWM will close and that in the meantime we should expect to see GOWM “progressively withdraw” from engagement in meetings, conferences, correspondence and other partner engagement.

The recently established West Midlands Leaders Board is already winding-down, most of its staff having been made redundant.

It isn’t a good time to have “west Midlands” in your name, is it?

Big Lottery announces first new programme under coalition government

Third Sector Online reports that BIG Lottery has just announced the launch of its first new programme since the coalition government came to power — this will be Youth in Focus, a £30m programme for England targetting young carers, young people leaving care, and young people leaving offenders’ institutions.

I haven’t looked at the specs in detail but this looks as if it might present an option for those seeking to target social enterprise development or support (or other enterprising initiatives) at these client groups. See Big Lottery here.

Cameron ‘Big Society’ speech

Further to this post, if you haven’t already heard or read the PM’s ‘big society’ speech delivered recently in Liverpool, the text can be read in full here. It makes genuinely interesting reading — partly because he has better speechwriters than either Brown or Blair did.

Read about the ‘vanguard communities’ — Eden Valley in Cumbria, Windsor and Maidenhead, Sutton, and Liverpool — which will be the coalition’s ‘great training ground’ for change, and the three ‘big strands’ of the big society: social action, public service reform, and community empowerment. Cameron is billing this as the biggest redistribution of power — in favour of citizens and away from Whitehall — that there has ever been.

What I find most curious, most notable in many ways, about the emerging big society theme is not its ideas — New Labour banged on for the best part of a decade about community empowerment and community engagement, after all — but the attitude. Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, was interviewed recently on R4. He more or less said that of course not all voluntary action would work, not all would necessarily succeed. But so what? Most would be good and in any sphere of endeavour we are used to some things not working. Cameron seemed to echo this more relaxed management-averse attitude in his Liverpool speech saying, “This process is all about learning. It’s about pushing power down [to the people] and seeing what happens.”

In many ways this attitude couldn’t be more different to Labour’s micro-managed, technocratic, centralising urges, which seemed to become ever stronger the further it tried to disperse power and activity.

Maybe what the coalition really means is this:

Don’t get so hung up on success and outcomes. Some social action will work, and some won’t — but what the hell, it’ll be free. We may as well give it a bash…..

Sandwell rejects social enterprise

The online magazine Children & Young People now reports that social workers in Sandwell has welcomed the council’s decision not to participate in a pilot of so-called ‘social work practices’. This would have seen a GP-style social work practice in Sandwell which, if successful, might have led to services for about 100 looked-after children being spun-out of local authority control as a worker managed social enterprise.

The Social Work Action Network had previously condemned the pilot as backdoor privatisation, saying “There is no evidence that social workers are frustrated entrepreneurs who need profit motive or a bonus to do their best for children.”

As previously covered here, this seems to offer mounting evidence of public sector workers’ deep mistrust regarding social enterprise and  the government’s intentions in pushing the social enterprise model.

Finditinbirmingham backs Birmingham Energy Savers — free breakfast event

The next breakfast networking event to be held by Finditinbirmingham, Brum’s new business opportunities website and business networking initiative, mentioned before here, will be all about introducing businesses to the opportunities which will flow from Birmingham Energy Savers, the successor to Green New Deal. You’ll need to book early for this 5th August event!

Birmingham Energy Savers is a £1.2m 5-year pilot in which local authority backed loans will be made to home owners and businesses to enable them to buy green technology like solar panels and better insulation.

Go to the Finditinbirmingham website to register for free and book for this and other breakfast events — the November one, for example, will have a social enterprise theme. And if you would like to book a workshop place at the Energy Savers event, ring Claire on 01384 563050.

What should social enterprise be doing in order to win the trust of workers and trade unions?

There’s a really interesting post on Chris Newis’s blog here about clashes between social enterprise and trade unions which are being provoked by the coalition government’s rush to externalise parts of the NHS. The story — workers at the Lyng health centre in West Bromwich staging a protest against Sandwell PCT’s plans to convert to a social enterprise — is covered on the BBC website here.

Chris’s post makes a number of important points, advocating that there should be not only a genuine consultation process involving workers and trade unions prior to any externalisation, but also that there should be employee-ownership training and that new social enterprises in the health sector (and elsewhere in public services) should be established as Industrial & Provident Societies rather than CICs because the IPS form enshrines democratic worker involvement.

There is a very real danger  that social enterprises and civic society organisations are being manoeuvred into position to assist in the dismantling of the welfare state. And yet the Social Enterprise Coalition has broadly welcomed the plans, albeit with minor reservations about the kind of definition the government is using when it talks about foundation trusts being ‘social enterprises’, and ACEVO’s deputy CEO, Dr Peter Kyle, has been quoted as saying that the sector will greet the white paper commitment to deal with any willing provider with “a sense of relief and enthusiasm”.

If the sector bodies that represent us and to which many of us pay membership subs are determined to ignore the politics of the situation and simply act as cheerleaders for mutuality at any cost, then they are failing us, failing public sector workers, and failing communities.

These are issues that go to the heart of what the sector is about, what its values really mean, and what its politics are.

Liberating the NHS?

Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, the government’s white paper on health service reforms has been published. Download it here.

I never thought I would see a government presided over by a Conservative prime minister say:

It is our privilege to be custodians of the NHS, its values and principles. We believe that the NHS is an integral part of a Big Society, reflecting the social solidarity of shared access to collective healthcare, and a shared responsibility to use resources effectively to deliver better health…. We are committed to an NHS that is available to all, free at the point of use, and based on need, not the ability to pay.

It rings every alarm bell I possess.

The Social Enterprise Coalition has broadly welcomed the white paper, largely on its commitment to ‘create the largest social enterprise sector in the world’. Peter Holbrook, SEC’s chief exec notes, however, that much more detail is required regarding how (I would have said ‘whether’) GP commissioning will work, and further clarity regarding the role of foundation trusts, which the white paper appears to regard as already synonymous with social enterprises.

It is claimed that the reforms will slash 45% from NHS management costs and liberate a billion pounds that can be reallocated to front-line services. 10 strategic health authorities will be abolished by 2012 and the 150 primary care trusts scrapped by 2013; up to 30,000 managers face being cut or redeployed. Writing in the Guardian yesterday Randeep Ramesh called this a ‘radical pro-market agenda‘ for the NHS which, according to one analyst, could herald the ‘denationalisation of healthcare services in England’.

Passing commissioning budgets and responsibility to GP consortia — which the majority of GPs are against, according to HealthCareRepublic — will also create massive opportunities for outsourcing companies (People Management). Yesterday’s Guardian editorial pointed out that buried in the white paper’s small print is a proposal to turn Monitor, the body that currently oversees the foundation trusts, into a ‘full-blown economic regulator to oversee a healthcare market’, rather like Ofcom and Ofgem oversee the markets in communications and energy.

The Patients Association has said ‘these changes are a huge experiment without much hard evidence about how they will work’.

To the non-health specialist these are also fantastically complicated issues, making it extremely difficult to know what positions the sector should adopt on this.

I know we have some health specialists amongst the readers of this blog, so please comment and share your thoughts. We should be pooling intelligence on this!

Social enterprises do great business at launch of Shop for Change

What an exciting day it was yesterday – we have been on a journey for the past 9 months to understand how best to grow new markets and support existing social enterprises. We quickly understood that social enterprises delivering services is the best kept secret in Birmingham and we faced a huge challenge to grow the market opportunities for this sector. Market Makers, our project funded by Be Birmingham, had already helped us to understand the markets social enterprises are operating in, but we had a big shock – we found out that hardly any social enterprises are buying business to business services, by that I mean things like marketing, printing, cleaning, etc. The challenge for me was how do I raise this issue – ‘A Campaign’ to change the way we buy seemed to be the solution.

‘Shop for Change’ is all about getting organisations to pledge to buy from social enterprises and in the very challenging times how and what we are all buying this seems to be more important than ever.

The launch was fantastic; we had 100 people attending, all committed to this new way of purchasing. There were 25 organisations displaying their services/products and there were enormous amounts of trading going on. People were reporting that this was the best trading event they had ever attended and today I have met people who have reported that they are following up ‘leads’ generated.

The next challenge for us at ISE is to support organisations on pricing, customer services, understanding the customer journey and delivering new markets.

The energy was amazing, since then we have found out that one social enterprise providing anger management and support for stress in the workplace did over £10, 000 of business at the event and another had their first customer for their new social enterprise nursery! We have decided to make this an annual event.

The campaign continues with press releases, networks events and 1:1 support – Contact us for more information at shopforchange@i-se.co.uk.

More news on ‘the big society’

nef is first off the blocks with a new publication seeking to read the runes of the ‘big society’. You can download their ‘Ten Big Questions About the Big Society…And Ten Ways to Make the Best of it’ here.

Plans to ‘mutualise’ British Waterways put on hold

One of the exciting possibilities being discussed by Labour in the later stages of the previous government was the potential to mutualise British Waterways and turn it into a ‘national trust’ for canals. Ministers said that the guardian of Britain’s canals and waterways — and the architectural and historic heritage that goes along with them — would have a natural home in the third sector.

Natural environment minister Richard Benyon has just announced that any decision on this must be deferred until after the Comprehensive Spending Review in October. Some MPs believe that plans to make BW the 13th biggest charity in the country are being shelved while the Treasury looks at the advantages of flogging off its assets…

Given the Con-Dems’ much vaunted commitment to the creation of mutuals, charities and social enterprises — commitments which still feature in the Cabinet Office’s current structural reform plans — it seems that British Waterways could be the canary down the mine, offering us all an indication of just how ‘alive’ these plans to support the mutual sector really are.