Pioneers Post
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  • user warning: UPDATE command denied to user '408302_semagad'@'10.187.244.203' for table 'cache_filter' query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p>Social enterprise has been politicised. From barely a mention during the 2005 general election, it featured prominently in all three of the main parties&rsquo; manifestos in the run up to May&rsquo;s contest. But it&rsquo;s not just at the top tier of government that politicians are talking about the subject &ndash; there was plenty to interest the sector in the council elections that also took place on 6 May.</p>\n<p>Cynics might argue that social enterprise moved higher up the political agenda for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. Politicians of all colours, and at both local and national level, see it as a of way delivering public services more effectively in response to expected cuts in funding of around 20 per cent from 2011 onwards.</p>\n<p>Social enterprise fits neatly with the Conservatives&rsquo; manifesto theme of social responsibility replacing state control and is viewed as a key element in their public service reform agenda of empowering communities while cutting costs. They pledged to promote public sector workers&rsquo; ownership of services through co-operatives and mutuals and make it less expensive for social enterprises to bid for contracts. A &lsquo;Big Society Bank&rsquo; was promised to support social investment.</p>\n<p>Labour pledged to allow more public sector staff to deliver front-line services through social enterprise and to extend support for third sector organisations bidding for public contracts. They signalled a commitment to &lsquo;mutualism&rsquo;, with more local energy schemes, community owned businesses, pubs, youth clubs and community land trusts. Their manifesto talked of &lsquo;social enterprise hubs&rsquo; and financing social enterprise through a social investment bank.</p>\n<p>The Liberal Democrats made a bold commitment to a new Mutuals, Co-operatives and Social Enterprise Bill with specific ministerial responsibility in their manifesto. They called for health and care workers to deliver their own services and believe social enterprises, co-operatives and mutuals all have an important part to play in creating a more balanced economy. They want a thorough review of value for money in public sector and public purchasing power to be used to expand the green technologies market. Financial support for social enterprise was promised in the shape of the &lsquo;Creative Enterprise Fund&rsquo;, local enterprise funds and regional stock exchanges.</p>\n<p>On the face of it there appears little difference between the parties&rsquo; pledges. But local government has long been a testing ground for national policies. So a look at the approaches adopted on the ground by local politicians of different persuasions offers clues as to the overlaps, the gaps and what might be in store. With the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicting that local government funding will be cut by &pound;26bn a year by 2013, councils across the UK are looking at ways of doing more for less &ndash; and turning to social enterprise for answers.</p>\n<p>The London boroughs of Lambeth and Barnet, both battlegrounds in local elections on 6 May, epitomise their parties&rsquo; stances. Conservative flagship authority Barnet was called the &lsquo;easyCouncil&rsquo; when it announced plans for a &lsquo;no-frills&rsquo; service akin to that offered by budget airline easyJet. Labour controlled Lambeth&rsquo;s co-operative model was dubbed the &lsquo;the John Lewis council&rsquo; in the press, referring to the staff-owned department store.</p>\n<p>Both authorities were returned with an increased majority for their party. Barnet Tories picked up two extra seats and the co-op plan seems to be a winner too in Lambeth, with Labour picking up seven extra seats.</p>\n<h4>SHAPING THE FUTURE</h4>\n<p>The Future Shape proposals launched by Barnet last July include social enterprise in plans for a major restructuring of the way services are delivered. Barnet claims decentralising services could save &pound;16m a year.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;Future Shape is about providing things in a better way for less money,&rsquo; says council leader Lynne Hillan.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;Social enterprises are in touch with local people and can do things for less because they have more freedom than the council.&rsquo;</p>\n<p>Her party envisages parents helping run schools and the third sector playing a leading role in &lsquo;delivering public services and tackling deep-rooted social problems&rsquo; and she sees no limit to what services can be provided by social enterprise locally.</p>\n<p>Staff in Barnet&rsquo;s planning department already offer a &lsquo;customer relationship management&rsquo; option for commercial clients prepared to pay extra for a higher level of service &ndash; although Hillan is keen to point out their planning application must still be processed in accordance with legal requirements. These planners are willing and able to run the service as a co-operative and will then compete for other business, according to Hillan.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;Public sector workers will be more motivated and change the whole idea of customer services overnight,&rsquo; she says. &lsquo;Refuse collection is a key example that could easily be done by a social enterprise. Fairness would have to be written in stone so that social enterprises provide basic levels of service. If people want an enhanced service on top of that, they can pay for it and the social enterprise would make a profit.&rsquo;</p>\n<h4>NEVER KNOWINGLY UNDERSOLD</h4>\n<p>On the other side of London and the other side of the political spectrum, Labour leader Steve Reed worked with local MP and Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell to develop the &lsquo;co-operative council&rsquo; model in Lambeth. This has been held up as a template for other Labour authorities.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;Social enterprises have helped us reach parts of the community the private and public sectors can&rsquo;t reach in Lambeth,&rsquo; says Reed. He believes they can deliver better services at better value because they are closer to service users, who understand their own needs better than bureaucrats ever can.</p>\n<p>For example, the community-run X-it peer mentoring scheme for young people on inner city estates has had a 72 per cent success rate in diverting them from crime. He wants to see more housing and neighbourhood services handed over to co-ops and run by tenants and staff.</p>\n<p>He adds that co-operative values are part of the history of the Labour movement rather than this being merely a response to budget pressures. He admits that unions are &lsquo;apprehensive&rsquo; about social enterprises taking over services, but says they are keen to engage rather than see services cut.</p>\n<p>In Reed&rsquo;s view the fundamental difference between the Labour and Conservative models is that Conservative politicians see social enterprise as a way of rolling back the state, whereas his party sees them as a way to change its role.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;The model we envision is about public ownership supported by the state,&rsquo; he says.</p>\n<p>Labour politicians in Lambeth plan to launch a post-election public consultation to flesh out their &lsquo;co-operative council&rsquo; ideas, such as a &lsquo;citizen&rsquo;s dividend&rsquo; &ndash; with council tax reductions in exchange for helping run services, &lsquo;micro-mutuals&rsquo; delivering personalised social care and turning the local Lilian Baylis school site into a community owned sport and youth hub, which would be the largest single asset transfer in the country to date.</p>\n<h4>TAKE YOUR PARTNERS</h4>\n<p>If Barnet is the &lsquo;easyCouncil&rsquo; and Lambeth the &lsquo;John Lewis council&rsquo;, then Liverpool has been the &lsquo;partnership council&rsquo; under his party, according to Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Kemp, <em>Social Enterprise</em> columnist and deputy chair of the Local Government Association.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;The council, social enterprises and the voluntary sector in Liverpool are all very much in tune and trying to maximise the opportunities,&rsquo; he says.</p>\n<p>Kemp has championed social enterprise in the city for decades.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;Our approach to social enterprise here has been very typical of the Liberal Democrats&rsquo; bottom up approach and the belief that it doesn&rsquo;t have to be either state provision or private enterprise.&rsquo;</p>\n<p>While Labour took control of the council in local elections on 6 May, only one third of the seats were up for re-election and Kemp remains in office.</p>\n<p>Liverpool City Council currently spends &pound;15m a year on contracts with social enterprises. Bulky Bob&rsquo;s is the most well known, but other prominent social enterprises in the city include Blackburne House Group and Liverpool Personal Service Society, which the council has appointed to deliver a social work pilot. The council has two dedicated officers looking at ways in which social enterprises can be encouraged and social enterprises are a specific part of its procurement policy.</p>\n<p>The Liberal Democrats&rsquo; local government conference in June will feature an event on social enterprise.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;The reason we put the Mutuals, Co-operatives and Social Enterprise Bill in our manifesto was to try to look at social enterprise as a more holistic thing to reshape economies and communities,&rsquo; says Kemp.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;It is not a case of doing it cheaper &ndash; and there is a danger of social enterprises being used for that. They are better value rather than cheaper. For example, Bulky Bob&rsquo;s is slightly more expensive than a conventional waste contract but also delivers recycling, training and jobs.&rsquo;</p>\n<p>Not everyone in local government is so enthusiastic about social enterprises running public services. Heather Wakefield, head of the local government service group at public service union Unison, can see where it is sometimes appropriate, but believes it is &lsquo;an un-thought-through and na&iuml;ve view that if you take core functions out of a local authority you can provide services more cheaply&rsquo;.</p>\n<p>She points out that setting up a co-operative is a lengthy and complex process: &lsquo;It might be seen as a way of doing it on the cheap, but services need to be properly scrutinised and regulated to ensure quality is consistent.&rsquo;</p>\n<h4>SILENCE IS GOLDEN</h4>\n<p>So what do social enterprises think of all this political attention? Most describe themselves as &lsquo;apolitical&rsquo; and those which are dependent on local authorities for contracts are understandably reluctant to comment on party politics.</p>\n<p>Philip Conway, CEO of Cool2Care, a community interest company that provides services for disabled children, is very positive about social enterprise hitting the political radar.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;This shows the work of bodies such as the Social Enterprise Coalition has paid off,&rsquo; he says. As head of a social enterprise which operates around the country, he can&rsquo;t see a difference between councils of different political colours, but believes having individual political champions within councils is important. He points out that none of the manifestos mentions CICs, when that is the model that has been specifically created for the sector and the fact that they are fully taxed needs to be tackled. None of the manifestos mention training when training of commissioners and managers is vital and lot of work is necessary to develop social marketplaces.</p>\n<p>&lsquo;The election has focused politicians&rsquo; minds. Now it is time to get down to brass tacks,&rsquo; he says.</p>\n<p>This political spotlight on social enterprise is welcome. But social enterprises need to ensure they are not hijacked for political ends &ndash; or expected to deliver vital public services at knock- down prices.</p>\n', created = 1466799509, expire = 1466885909, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:35c43ab1ec2ac815c5129fe921edd68f' in /mnt/stor2-wc1-dfw1/408302/www.socialenterpriselive.com/web/content/includes/cache.inc on line 109.
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Local heroes?

18 May 2010

As cuts in public spending loom, councils of all political persuasions are looking to social enterprises to plug gaps in their services. Nicola Carroll looks at how this controversial policy works in practice

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