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Mutuals mayhem after private health provider zooms past flagship social enterprise

19 September 2011
Photo of Social Enterprise UK CEO Peter Holbrook

If Central Surrey Health... can’t win preferred-provider status, what does this say for the future of the mutuals agenda?

Peter Holbrook, CEO, Social Enterprise UK

The drive to put social enterprise at the forefront of health service delivery in the UK swerved off course this week with news that the ‘preferred bidder’ for NHS Surrey is a private company mostly owned by the Virgin Group.

NHS Surrey awarded preferred-bidder status to Assura Medical Limited over the flagship social enterprise Central Surrey Health. Assura is 75% owned by Virgin Group.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, called for ‘swift action’ by the government to create what he described as ‘fair markets that benefit society’.

Holbrook said: ‘If Central Surrey Health, the government’s flagship mutual social enterprise, which has demonstrated considerable success in transforming health services, reducing waiting times and increasing productivity can’t win preferred-provider status, what does this say for the future of the mutuals agenda?

‘Central Surrey Health reinvests all the profits it makes locally. It is difficult to imagine how Assura, with shareholders expecting a financial return, could do more to benefit people in Surrey.’

Holbrook continued: ‘It is not enough for government to open up markets; it needs to create fair markets that benefit society. Some of the financial criteria used in contracts create an unequal playing field in which social enterprises are unable to compete because they may not have the same financial backing as private sector providers. Unless swift action is taken to address this we will see social enterprises and mutuals lose out to the private sector.’

He added that public sector workers would be ‘understandably anxious’ about spinning out from the NHS and setting up a social enterprise on the back of this news. ‘The government needs to take action to reassure them that they will not be operating in markets weighted against them,’ he said.

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