Johnny Cash, as some of you might know walked the line and eventually fell into a burning ring of fire… I have some sympathy with old Johnny Cash; we at SEC find ourselves constantly walking the line and trying to avoid a fall. The team here at SEC towers have been having detailed ongoing discussions and grappling with the multitude of issues that have existed since some of our aspirations (and indeed our manifesto asks) were in part realised by the new coalition Government.
Social enterprise is clearly at the heart of the Big Society agenda both in terms of sustainable community action and public sector transformation. It’s an ideology that we have campaigned for successfully over a number of years and now the agenda has finally arrived; vanguard communities, mutual pathfinders, co operative councils, the community right to buy, bid, build. We even have, thanks to a great pre-election campaign by SEC, Chris White MPs private members bill on Social Value and Social Enterprise which will be tabled in November. It’s like our Christmases have come all at once. Almost.
Because these are no ordinary Christmases; these are harsh Dickensian Christmases where you were lucky if you got three hazelnuts, a wooden horse and a shiny penny. Can the vision, that we have said we can create, be achieved during the greatest reduction in public spending in living history? Can we achieve the scale that we want with a modestly sized Big Society Bank, philanthropy, social impact bonds and loan finance? Is there the practical support out there for social enterprise to meet the demand?
We hear from a multitude of members great and small that times are tough, budgets are being cut, contracts cancelled and community centres, hubs and other buildings that communities have had their eye on for years are being rapidly put up for sale by cash strapped councils as they try and prepare for ‘the cliff’ of Mar 31 2011. Plunkett’s community pubs project having their modest £3M funding withdrawn was also a sign of the times.
So how do we walk the line? How do we effectively champion social enterprise, maintain our identity as an independent movement and both challenge and advise government? The rapid pace of change across nearly all Government departments is genuinely breathtaking; at SEC we have a great relationship with key civil servants and ministers and an opportunity to influence many of the policies that affect our sector. We will not, nor should not, give that up too willingly; influence is one of our greatest assets.
We need to be challenging, at times publicly, and also need to talk candidly with those in and those close to Government about our concerns, hopes and aspirations and provide solutions in order that current opportunities are not lost.
We must also remember that a good proportion of our members and indeed our sector operate in consumer markets and need us not to become entirely focused on the Big Society. Perhaps the real social enterprise revolution will occur when members of the public demand social enterprise solutions rather than just members of parliament.
So we at SEC walk the line between influence and protest, between consumer and public sectors, between start-ups and scale ups and between the very social and the very enterprising.
As a practitioner before taking the helm at SEC, I had my views on what it should be or could be and would ask ‘why doesn’t it…?’ Now I’m here I’ve got a much better idea – its bloody hard work walking the line.