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Archive for October, 2011

Andrew Lansley was continually challenged by a frequently angry audience during last week’s Question Time debate. The Health and Social Care Bill has been pushed through at break neck speed. I sense a genuine fear of what looks like an increasingly inevitable outcome – a similar experience to that of the DWP’s Work Programme; great promises of a meaningful and modernizing role for the third sector but a reality where a small number of big businesses dominate. After all they are well capitalised, capable of achieving huge economies of scale, too big to fail, and they will of course deliver the efficiencies we all so desire and desperately need. After all, it did work with the energy sector, bus and rail de-regulation didn’t it? No.

Excessive profiteering, as we have seen in all of these areas, occurs when there are too few competitors, not when there are too many. Unfortunately Whitehall often has a very short memory.

A revolution in commissioning was promised by the last government, as it is by the current. Waiting for a great leap forwards in commissioning is likely to be the equivalent of waiting for a gentle and delicate Wayne Rooney to emerge out of the tunnel at Old Trafford. Chris White’s Bill could play an  important role in evolving commissioning but it won’t create the revolution we need all by itself. Strong US style anti-trust laws might help protect against the natural yet damaging monopolies that form when policy and commissioning favours only big business.

What’s more likely to have an impact is the sort of collapse of faith in big business ethics by consumers and more importantly voters that the protests across the world over the weekend suggest is beginning to emerge.  Before last Thursday’s Question Time debate got going there was a fascinating story about the 99% campaign camps set up in US towns and cities. From humble beginnings and a simple gathering on Wall Street, the movement has spread rapidly and appears to be developing rapidly across the UK too. The protesters call it a movement rather than a protest and are calling for a conversation on rampaging social and financial inequality. The campaign is centred on business ethics; excessive profiteering by global companies, business being bailed out by tax payers, avoidance of tax, over-exploitation of our natural resources and our communities.

It’s perhaps captured an underlying public mood – one that is growing, particularly in the developed world. Business has to change the way it operates; the siphoning off of ever-greater profits to a small, exclusive, globally-mobile elite must stop. The protestors argue that governments around the world have been far too complicit in enabling this globalized business culture to grow unchallenged. Now you’ll know from my last blog that I’m in favour of working with corporate partners where a meaningful relationship can be developed but the opportunity to co produce with value-driven businesses tends to be a growing yet still marginal opportunity rather than the norm – particularly within the foggy world of international capital and trading markets.

I’m currently travelling back from a meeting with PM training in Stoke on Trent. They work with around 1000 people each year providing training and high quality apprenticeships. I’ve blogged about them before. They’ve grown from a £2m to a £7m business in a short while. Last year 95% of their trainees (most of whom have faced multiple challenges in their early lives) completed their courses and, most importantly, secured work. It’s an inspiring organisation that continues to buy up private businesses and convert them into social enterprises. They have 42 homework teams providing garden and home maintenance to 5000 households of elderly and disabled people each year. They show exactly what can be done by socially-driven local businesses. In terms of outcomes they are capable of completely outperforming any big corporate and yet they are excluded from a range of government procurement opportunities because of their modest size or because the business case for them acting as sub-contractor-to-prime just doesn’t stack up. A report in the Mail on Sunday shown to me by Will, PM’s Chief Exec exposed how the apprenticeship programme is simply using taxpayers’ cash to provide existing staff within the big supermarkets with training labelled as adult apprenticeships rather than creating new jobs and training opportunities. It said that Asda alone has 25000 taxpayer-supported adult apprenticeships on the go, and not a single new job created as a result. Can’t the big supermarkets afford the cost of their own staff training? Wouldn’t it be better value to invest in the like of PM Training to expand their excellent work – safe in the knowledge that any profit they generate from public money would get reinvested into local communities, job creation and growth?

Is it any wonder people are angry on Question Time and taking to the streets in cities across the world?

Things aren’t changing fast enough and without much more ambitious thinking we know we will end up with more business-as-usual. The localism agenda needs to get a whole lot more radical. Collectively social enterprises must engage with the public and explain that they are part of the economic solution our world and our communities desperately need. Our new ‘Society Profits’ campaign aims to enable social enterprises and their supporters across the UK to do just that. Join our campaign, spread the word and show the angry and frustrated citizens around the world that a new, fairer economy can and will exist if we all collectively demand it. As you know that new economy must be built with social enterprise at its foundations.

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Sad news about Steve Jobs. I woke early yesterday morning to hear the news on Radio 4. He was cited as the most culturally important person of the last 30 years. The news was accompanied by a number of Jobs’ insightful quotes, but this one really stands out for me: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Jobs’ quotes in the media in the coming weeks and I apologise for being quite so obvious, but I love some of what he said as much as I like the products that he was integral in developing. At age 56 it’s a sad, tragic loss.

As Jobs knew, employee engagement and loyalty is much easier when you have clearly defined values to sell to your staff. It’s been shown to help with worker recruitment and retention, greatly increase productivity and reduce staff absenteeism. Running an organisation that bosses, staff and customers can have pride in isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.

Professor Michael Porter at Harvard Business School has spoken a great deal about business creating greater shared value, and he’s not the only one. Large corporates are all too aware that people are taking a keener-than-ever interest in corporate values and sustainability when choosing with who they might develop their careers. Big businesses are also facing customer cynicism, which is at an all-time high. This is partly why I believe they are keen to work with social enterprises in ever-greater numbers. Over the past 12 months we have been working more with private businesses; we’re encouraging them to open up their supply chains to social enterprise, modernise parts of their corporate responsibility strategies and adapt their businesses to a fast-changing world by becoming ever more socially enterprising. Doing the right thing is not always at odds with profit – in many cases it can enhance it – and corporates can really engage their staff by being supportive of social enterprise. For the movement it’s an important step because we’re raising awareness of social enterprise at the heart of big business.

You may already know that PwC has invested in the Fire Station on Tooley Street, London Bridge and developed a new social enterprise hub – a base that signals their support for our sector (and will be Social Enterprise UK’s home soon). RBS Natwest has launched a new micro-credit loan fund, Microsoft’s new director of social enterprise is working very closely alongside us to maximise their sector impact and Business In The Community have launched ‘arc – Building Better Business’ a new support programme for social enterprises in London.

Relationships between the corporate sector and social enterprise sector have never been so potentially fruitful. I understand many people are concerned that our sector might be used to ‘cleanse’ the image of tarnished business that continues to behave in greedy and selfish ways, but I genuinely believe that the tide is turning and the relationships we cultivate are assessed on the balance of net-gain for society and the sector. We have engaged the corporate ear and we must wisely use this opportunity to create the biggest and best impact for our world by challenging and changing usual business doctrines.

Maybe it’s because we’re all in business that were beginning to build such productive relationships and understand how business needs to change. Business is getting this agenda much faster than many politicians – too many of whom see us as a peripheral, ideological and a marginal business sector. Ed Milliband was widely slated for talking about the role of good business, and how the predatory way of doing business needed to change. It seems odd that it wasn’t well received given that this is exactly the consensus that is emerging from business and economic analysts and across publications such as the Financial Times and the Harvard Business Review. Ed Miliband was a good friend to Social Enterprise in Government and he needs to give it support in opposition or risk having the socially-responsible business ground stolen by opponents.

We kicked off the conference season with the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham; highlights included agreeing a number of potentially impactful actions with the BIS minister Ed Davey. I just hope he can encourage the rest of his department to take social enterprise as seriously as he clearly does.

We were delighted to host our Labour Party event at Blackburne House, the social enterprise founded by my boss, and had a constructive discussion with Baroness Thornton, one of our new patrons, as well as Emily Thornbury MP, David Hanson MP and former transport minister Paul Clark about how Labour could create a clearer narrative on social justice, social enterprise and the role of good businesses in creating a fairer, more resilient economy. Themes that (surely by some coincidence) made their way into the leader’s speech later that day. I also shared a CBI platform with Helen Goodman MP and would have loved to accept her invitation to go for a dance if it wasn’t for a pre-booked train home!

We had a great breakfast with our minister Nick Hurd at the Conservative conference. He gave his time generously and is clearly sincere in his support for our shared aspirations for the sector. We had a collective discussion about some really important issues including the Social Enterprise Bill and the future of the Work Programme. I doubt it could be a more challenging time for any OCS minister than it is right now, but Nick’s knowledge of the sector and his obvious commitment to it creates the best hope we have of getting Government to take us more seriously and deliver on their pre-election commitments.

We also held a lively fringe meeting – thank you to our members for coming along. It was chaired by the Guardian’s Patrick Butler with John Coulthard (Microsoft’s director of social enterprise) and Richard Fuller (MP for Bedford). If you haven’t come across Richard then you should make yourself aware of him. A great orator, entertaining company and a fabulous and intelligent proponent of our sector. He gave a provocative and energetic analysis of what needs to happen to grow social enterprise: risk, more risk, planning for failure, capitalisation, innovation, localism and a revolution in commissioning. He’s an exceptional asset and one to watch.

What of the PM’s speech? The only thing I could think was where has the Big Society gone? It featured lightly with just two mentions. I’m guessing we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.

So the conference season is over and life returns to some sort of normality. Our conference activities are only made possible through the love and support of some of our members so thanks to P3, Sandwell CCT, HCT and Locality. Your investment on behalf of the whole sector is very much appreciated. As is the tireless work of the policy team here at Social Enterprise UK to get these meetings and events organised in the first place. A really big thank you.

See you all soon

Peter

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Apple pie and optimism

Sad news about Steve Jobs. I woke early yesterday morning to hear the news on Radio 4. He was cited as the most culturally important person of the last 30 years. The news was accompanied by a number of Jobs’ insightful quotes, but this one really stands out for me: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Jobs’ quotes in the media in the coming weeks and I apologise for being quite so obvious, but I love some of what he said as much as I like the products that he was integral in developing. At age 56 it’s a sad, tragic loss.

As Jobs knew, employee engagement and loyalty is much easier when you have clearly defined values to sell to your staff. It’s been shown to help with worker recruitment and retention, greatly increase productivity and reduce staff absenteeism. Running an organisation that bosses, staff and customers can have pride in isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.

Professor Michael Porter at Harvard Business School has spoken a great deal about business creating greater shared value, and he’s not the only one. Large corporates are all too aware that people are taking a keener-than-ever interest in corporate values and sustainability when choosing with who they might develop their careers. Big businesses are also facing customer cynicism, which is at an all-time high. This is partly why I believe they are keen to work with social enterprises in ever-greater numbers. Over the past 12 months we have been working more with private businesses; we’re encouraging them to open up their supply chains to social enterprise, modernise parts of their corporate responsibility strategies and adapt their businesses to a fast-changing world by becoming ever more socially enterprising. Doing the right thing is not always at odds with profit – in many cases it can enhance it – and corporates can really engage their staff by being supportive of social enterprise. For the movement it’s an important step because we’re raising awareness of social enterprise at the heart of big business.

You may already know that PwC has invested in the Fire Station on Tooley Street, London Bridge and developed a new social enterprise hub – a base that signals their support for our sector (and will be Social Enterprise UK’s home soon). RBS Natwest has launched a new micro-credit loan fund, Microsoft’s new director of social enterprise is working very closely alongside us to maximise their sector impact and Business In The Community have launched ‘arc – Building Better Business’ a new support programme for social enterprises in London.

Relationships between the corporate sector and social enterprise sector have never been so potentially fruitful. I understand many people are concerned that our sector might be used to ‘cleanse’ the image of tarnished business that continues to behave in greedy and selfish ways, but I genuinely believe that the tide is turning and the relationships we cultivate are assessed on the balance of net-gain for society and the sector. We have engaged the corporate ear and we must wisely use this opportunity to create the biggest and best impact for our world by challenging and changing usual business doctrines.

Maybe it’s because we’re all in business that were beginning to build such productive relationships and understand how business needs to change. Business is getting this agenda much faster than many politicians – too many of whom see us as a peripheral, ideological and a marginal business sector. Ed Milliband was widely slated for talking about the role of good business, and how the predatory way of doing business needed to change. It seems odd that it wasn’t well received given that this is exactly the consensus that is emerging from business and economic analysts and across publications such as the Financial Times and the Harvard Business Review. Ed Miliband was a good friend to Social Enterprise in Government and he needs to give it support in opposition or risk having the socially-responsible business ground stolen by opponents.

We kicked off the conference season with the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham; highlights included agreeing a number of potentially impactful actions with the BIS minister Ed Davey. I just hope he can encourage the rest of his department to take social enterprise as seriously as he clearly does.

We were delighted to host our Labour Party event at Blackburne House, the social enterprise founded by my boss, and had a constructive discussion with Baroness Thornton, one of our new patrons, as well as Emily Thornbury MP, David Hanson MP and former transport minister Paul Clark about how Labour could create a clearer narrative on social justice, social enterprise and the role of good businesses in creating a fairer, more resilient economy. Themes that (surely by some coincidence) made their way into the leader’s speech later that day. I also shared a CBI platform with Helen Goodman MP and would have loved to accept her invitation to go for a dance if it wasn’t for a pre-booked train home!

We had a great breakfast with our minister Nick Hurd at the Conservative conference. He gave his time generously and is clearly sincere in his support for our shared aspirations for the sector. We had a collective discussion about some really important issues including the Social Enterprise Bill and the future of the Work Programme. I doubt it could be a more challenging time for any OCS minister than it is right now, but Nick’s knowledge of the sector and his obvious commitment to it creates the best hope we have of getting Government to take us more seriously and deliver on their pre-election commitments.

We also held a lively fringe meeting – thank you to our members for coming along. It was chaired by the Guardian’s Patrick Butler with John Coulthard (Microsoft’s director of social enterprise) and Richard Fuller (MP for Bedford). If you haven’t come across Richard then you should make yourself aware of him. A great orator, entertaining company and a fabulous and intelligent proponent of our sector. He gave a provocative and energetic analysis of what needs to happen grow social enterprise: risk, more risk, planning for failure, capitalisation, innovation, localism and a revolution in commissioning. He’s an exceptional asset and one to watch.

What of the PM’s speech? The only thing I could think was where has the Big Society gone? It featured lightly with just two mentions. I’m guessing we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.

So the conference season is over and life returns to some sort of normality. Our conference activities are only made possible through the love and support of some of our members so thanks to P3, Sandwell CCT, HCT and Locality. Your investment on behalf of the whole sector is very much appreciated. As is the tireless work of the policy team here at Social Enterprise UK to get these meetings and events organised in the first place. A really big thank you.

See you all soon

Peter

Read Full Post »