(And why the Premier League is making my blood Boyle…)

I’m sure many of us have considered the Southern Cross debacle within recent weeks. Was this inevitable? Is this a taste of things to come for other outsourced public services? An investigation by the Financial Times has recently shown that the quality of care in one in seven privately run homes in England was rated “poor” or “adequate” by the government regulator. These low ratings indicate potentially serious problems such as a failure to adequately to feed or clean residents. By contrast, the low ratings applied to just one in 11 homes run by non-profit organisations or local authorities (based on April 2010 ratings from the regulator the Care Quality Commission).

Of course there are excellent privately run care homes, but it appears the desire to deliver profits in excess of what might normally be expected – by carving up the company several years ago – has led to a serious crisis.

To me it seems there are three options:

  1. The ultimately inevitable government bailout of Southern Cross happens and the status quo limps on, on the basis they become financially viable of the business. But this seems to be unlikely given many costs (staff) have already been cut to the bone. How they will shed another 3,000 employees without further reducing the quality of care is a critical question to be answered.
  2. That one or some of the charity residential care providers and supporters of older people – such as Leonard Cheshire, Abbeyfield and Age UK – either alone or together are encouraged to get involved in the delivery of these essential services. Although given the time pressures, risk and mission drift this would cause, it’s very unlikely. If I were in government I would not hold my breath for too long.
  3. But there is a potential third option. One that has been missing from the debate thus far and that is the role of social enterprise. There are big questions that need answering before I can be sure that it would work, but surely we need some transformative thinking here rather than how we patch up a model of care that simply can’t work.

I’m suggesting that we form a new CIC Ltd by share; let’s call it ‘Fair Care’. We appoint an executive board with a power-house chairperson who government will listen to and we make government a shareholder, perhaps with a golden share. We recruit sector specialists who have turned around care services before – Geoff Walker (Sandwell CCT), Victor Adebowale (Turning Point), Margaret Elliot (Sunderland Homecare) and Maria Mills (SCA Group). We bring in a couple of former local authority CEO’s or directors of social care, some social financiers – and have a couple of government seats on the board. And then we bring in the experts who can sense check a business plan in a tight time frame.

The ‘Fair Care’ CIC board is socially driven, bespoke and fit for purpose, but it doesn’t deliver – it oversees delivery and commissions from local and national charities. It’s a kind of ‘network rail’ solution only much, much better. Equity investment could potentially come from church resources and perhaps from charity reserves – particularly those involved in older people’s care. Investment could flow from private sources and from government too.

Charities big and small could deliver the operational side – they get rate relief and an 80% reduction in rates is a very substantial saving for care homes – often the equivalent to four or five full time staff! Then throw in the power of social enterprise delivery models – their ability to create value through staff engagement, training, recruitment and staff retention. We know that social enterprise care homes (most of which have charitable status often because of the tax relief available) have driven down costs, not by cutting staff but by driving up productivity, reducing absenteeism, co designing services with carers and beneficiaries, and leveraging vast amounts of social capital and genuine value through the trust they have developed with their stakeholders. Can you ever imagine a local community volunteering or raising funds to support the endeavours of Southern Cross? Or an elderly resident bequeathing their estate to a PLC?

Of course it’s not as easy as it seems. There are many questions that require clarification and lots of hurdles too. What are the liabilities? What is the working capital required from government and loan investment? How investible is this new business model? What are the terms and conditions of existing contracts with local authorities? The lease arrangements and opportunities to negotiate with the Southern Cross property company? The TUPE implications?

But if we’re given some of the answers to these questions then a social enterprise solution can be found. And the well being, security and safety of the most vulnerable people within our society must be found alongside a trusted long-term approach to the care of older people.

Crisis is a great opportunity for innovation, fresh thinking and for the delivery of new approaches. Let’s hope the government sees the opportunity beyond the crisis. I’m asking our sector to come forward with more ideas, more questions and to contribute to the debate. I believe this could be an opportunity for social enterprise – and for the principles in Big Society – to shine.

Let’s get a roundtable organised, thrash out the details and make a coherent case to government that this is an area where transformative thinking is required.


An important ps.

I was absolutely gutted to hear that Dave Boyle, CEO from Supporters Direct (one of our members), was forced to resign following a twitter outburst about MK Dons, franchise football and the Premier League’s role in the whole thing. I was with Dave the day after AFC Wimbledon were promoted to the Football League after our original club was bought and moved nine years ago. I had a couple of celebratory pints with him. He’s a great guy and has achieved a vast amount with Supporters Direct for the benefit of football, rugby league fans and communities right across the country.

For AFC Wimbledon and other social enterprise football clubs that are community owned, the withdrawal of Supporters Direct funding and the Premier League’s insistence that it had lost faith in the organisation’s leadership following the indiscreet tweet, is just another sign that the Premier League is out of step with the people.

Lots more to say, but no time to say it, so I’ll try and blog again very soon. Thanks for all your personal messages of support over the last couple of weeks – it means a lot.


A recently-retired senior civil servant emailed me recently, saying “I have a smallish but not insignificant sum to invest and you’ve sold me the social enterprise vision. What investment opportunities exist within the sector – do you know of any?” at moments like this the realities of connecting demand and supply – both exciting and depressing – come crashing in.

Access to more mainstream capital is critical if we are going to realise our ambitions for social enterprise. While many incredible social enterprises don’t have an appetite or ambition for turbo-charged growth, many, many do. While it’s true that the Co operative Group has grown its business only through reinvesting its own profits, plenty in our movement don’t want to wait decades to realise the growth they could achieve if capital were more accessible.

Of course the Big Society Bank is a welcome addition but let’s be realistic. It’s not and will never be the whole answer to our needs.

The much-discussed Social Stock Exchange perhaps provides a bigger opportunity for us. We know there are people out there who live ethical lives; consumer trends suggest that this market is resilient and growing. But while it’s easier and easier to buy with a conscience how easy is it to invest with the same level of diligence? Although ethical savings and pension funds are now more common I question just how ethical these are. I have a small green pension fund but I suspect it’s a very pale shade of green.

A social stock exchange could be a game changer – it could bring together successful socially beneficial enterprises and connect them to sources of investment that are hungry for a blended return.

We have nearly a million people working within the sector who could be potential investors, we have any army of supporters across other sectors, we have charities with large reserves in traditional and often dirty investment portfolios and billions of pounds in local authority investments. This money could be working for our communities, stimulating growth and innovation rather than simply looking for the highest and often risky financial return (remember local authority Icelandic investments anyone?). A social stock exchange could realise the level of investment in our sector that we need to fuel growth and exploit opportunity – and most social investors would be happy with bonds rather than simple equity – so ownership and values need not be compromised in the process. I’m supporting Pradeep and Mark in the creation of the Social Stock Exchange – I’m hoping you do too.

On a slightly different note I thought Monday’s FT article on future outsourcing was very revealing. The big companies that churn billions of pounds of tax payers money simply don’t see the wider sector as a threat:
“there is no way on the planet that these contracts are going to be let to a charity…the (charitable) sector will not be a massive player in the delivery of public services as they “simply don’t have the scale and can’t bear the risk of things going wrong.”

They could be right but, as any smart cookie knows, you should never underestimate your competitors. This sort of lazy complacency may well be their future Achilles heel. Of course we recognise that scale and capitalization remain major challenges for us but we are developing fast – new ideas around Social Enterprise LLP’s, new bonds, growing public awareness, lord Hodgson’s red tape task force for charities and social enterprises , ever growing evidence of our sector’s resilience, economic success and social value are putting us in an increasingly better place SO, despite the dreadful economic circumstance the future could still be ours. Our soon-to-be launched State of Social Enterprise survey will reveal some reasons to be cheerful and some reasons to feel very proud. More to follow on that one!

Finally I was in Edinburgh last week to meet peers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Exciting stuff is happening in Scotland where a net increase in resources for the sector has been announced. It appears rhetoric is turning into reality in Scotland. New opportunities are emerging in Wales although the cuts are hitting poorer communities incredibly hard and the Northern Ireland Assembly are slowly but surely waking up to the role of social enterprise in developing a robust and resilient mixed economy. Across the UK nations we have agreed to work more closely than ever, syndicate content, develop closer policy alignment and do much more co-production than ever before.

We finished the meeting with a visit to St Jude’s laundry which Forth Sector has recently acquired. An amazing place providing the cleanest, freshest laundry to corporate and private customers – it even has a royal warrant.

It was a great way, once again, to reconnect with the values, innovation, impact and diversity of the sector. It currently employs around 40 staff. A thriving, competitive, viable business that is working with some of the most marginalised people in our society. It has ambition, it has soul, it has happy customers and I’m in no doubt it has a great future.

Your views please

Since 2002, when SEC first came onto the scene, a huge amount has changed in social enterprise, as have we. Looking ahead there will be opportunities as well as challenges, but we’re certain the movement will grow and achieve even greater things for our communities, our society and our world. And so we want to make sure that our identity is spot on, and works for our members and the wider movement. It’s also time for a brand that works beyond the political arena. We’ll be changing our logo and perhaps our name too.

We want – we need – you (our members, supporters and friends) to tell us what you think. The more people who give us their thoughts, the better the end result will be for social enterprise. It’ll only take a few minutes to fill out the survey.

Thanks very much!


On another matter – it was very remiss of me not to mention in my previous blog the wonderful team at my old haunt, café sunlight, for the great service they provided on the evening of the Social Enterprise Awards. It was wonderfully done. Well done to Dave and Audrey for getting it so very right and it was a joy to see many of the old team – like Rob, Charlene, Lauren and Josh – still developing and growing into roles they so clearly love. You did us all proud – so thank you for being part of such a fantastic event.

Pat Samuels, with a career and experience spanning 26 years departed the Cabinet Office today to take early retirement. One of a number of senior civil servants who have also opted for an early exit.

Pat has been nothing less than brilliant, leaving the treasury to join, support and perhaps even lead the civil society movement through her often too subtle role within the CO. Colleagues, friends and her husband joined the massed ranks of everything that is good in civil society to say thank you to Pat.

Whilst the Voluntary and Community Sector praised her with warm rhetoric it was the social enterprise movement that moved from rhetoric to delivering the goods; in this case the goods were treats from Jamie’s Fifteen restaurant. Oven gloves, an apron and a fab bottle of rose were presented in recognition of Pat’s work in helping shape the social enterprise policy agenda.

It was good to see Stephen Bubb there, and Stuart Etherington with the NCVO posse, but the event was severely lacking in ministerial representation, which Pat should have clearly commanded. A good night, but unfortunately it was as subtle and as low key as Pat would have wanted, but surely didn’t deserve.

I left for South Africa with the sad news that the WISE group had been unsuccessful with their bid to DWP. Their performance on previous DWP contracts had been outstanding – a shining example of what social enterprise can achieve, a high performer that not only gets people back to work, but does so by improving whole lives and regenerating communities.

The winning prime contractors have committed to between a 3%-7% third sector supply chain. Is DWP out of step with the Government’s commitment that 25% of public spending will go to SME’s, and that as the Queen stated in her opening of parliament charities, co-operatives and social enterprises will play a bigger role in public service? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

We’ll be working with the WISE group to ensure that DWP fully understand the missed opportunity that this decision has created. As I’ve said before, we don’t want unfair advantage, but we want a level playing field and for the added value that we create to be recognised within the commissioning frameworks.

So I arrived in Johannesburg for the 4th World Social Enterprise Forum and it wasn’t the best first impression. I got into a taxi with two fellow speakers who had flown in from Italy. Our driver, who had left his car in a zone that clearly stated ‘No stopping’, was given a ticket. An angry exchange between the driver and the policeman followed, before he got into the car and said: ‘If I was black he wouldn’t have given me a ticket, he’s is a fascist’. The three of us spontaneously and angrily pounced upon him and we spent the rest of the journey without a sound from him. ‘Is this really representative of the new South Africa?’ I thought.

Opening of the 2011 Social Enterprise World Forum

Opening of the 2011 Social Enterprise World Forum in Johannesburg

The World Forum brings together hundreds of speakers, delegates, activists, policy wonks and politicians from right around the world. It’s not only an information and learning exchange, the forum acts as a catalyst for social enterprise development in whatever territory it lands. Sometimes it’s a whole country that’s affected and sometimes such as in Africa a whole continent that benefits. The UN were present, the world bank, international NGOs and many people who are tirelessly running inspiring social enterprises in some of the harshest economic circumstances anywhere in the world.

Jay Naidoo (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and previous cabinet minister of South Africa), Professor Kovin Naidoo (International Centre for Eyecare Education), Futhi Mtoba (Deloitte Chair and Business SA President) were just some of the impressive speakers on this year’s programme. Ten people from UK social enterprises were also there including Alex from the Grow Organisation, Margaret from the WISE Group, Ian from Pluss, Verity from FRC Group, Neil from the Social Enterprise Academy, John from Welsh SEC, and Kelly from Voluntary Action Highland. Everyone I spoke to from the UK and beyond appreciated the value and power of attending.

The conference ran for four days, one set aside for issues specific to Africa. We came away with commitments to work with our African friends to help develop a better social enterprise infrastructure, to help build a bigger movement based on community-owned economic development and to help catalyse a rebalancing of international grant aid to sustainable social enterprise investment.

After the conference I joined the international group tour, the programme excellently developed by Gerry Higgins, and expertly organised and managed by Lindsey – both from CEiS. Korea, USA, Canada, Australia and Germany were all represented in the group which helped maintain a pretty global perspective throughout the tour programme. SHAW Co is a social enterprise delivered from within the University of Cape Town and has a huge impact through a range of interventions across the townships of Cape Town. They are running exceptional nursery provision (I’m hoping that June from LEYF might want to develop a relationship with them). They are running five community-run health and wellbeing centres that seemed to be using the same model we developed at Sunlight. And they’re using medical students to deliver mobile health clinics as part of a more vocational and experiential curriculum.

At Zip Zap circus we were treated to range of performances that wouldn’t have looked out of place at any international arts platform. They put on a whole programme of events and use the income to create opportunities for any young person aged 7-18 to attend circus training for free in areas including performance, lighting, costume, administration, stage management and marketing. Over 150 young people, mainly from the townships are supported each year. There’s a few lessons here for UK arts organisations who are going to be facing severe challenges and could benefit, I’m sure, from a bit of Zip Zap inspiration. I’m hoping that a new relationship can be developed with our own social enterprise circuses here in the UK – namely No Fit State Circus who performed at VOICE 10 and Circus Space here in London.

Exploring a township

And so we learned, we shared, we contributed and we left. Inspired, energised and networked to exhaustion, but with a really grounded sense of the local and global challenges we collectively face. It felt great to leave with a mountain of new ideas of how we can continue to transfer innovative solutions across national boundaries and build the social enterprise movement not only here in the UK but worldwide too.

Thankfully my fears about South Africa from my first airport transfer were mostly misplaced, although there is clearly still much to be done culturally, structurally and legislatively to shift South Africa’s position as one of the most unequal societies on earth.

I look forward to reporting back on next year’s forum, taking place in Rio…!

What a day…!

Well we’re back at SEC towers after a long but inspiring VOICE 11 and UK Social Enterprise Awards event.

We struggled in late this morning battered and bruised and with sore feet and drained batteries on our pedometers… I had clocked up 19,027 steps from the time I was pedded up at 12.30pm until the time I got to my bed at 4.30am. Given that I had been at The O2 since 7.30am I reckon I’m entitled to add at least another 10,000 steps to that total.

But getting in this morning was a treat; we shared the texts, tweets and emails and it was a joy. The overwhelming sentiment is that we got it mostly right; people have said that we listened to last year’s feedback, adapted the format and delivered what you had asked for and that for everyone good business was done. Some have fed back that based upon the business deals done yesterday that they’ll being employing extra staff and I hope that we hear and that you share many similar stories with us too. It’s really important we capture your experiences and stories from Voice11 so we can learn from you and expand the event’s future impact so please get in touch with us. We know the venue was cold, particularly for exhibitors, but I’m amazed that someone didn’t think to go buy some gloves, scarves and thermals and set up a pop up shop!

We at SEC can make all sorts of things happen but alas the weather was out of our control.

The People’s Food Company did a sterling job in keeping a constant supply of hot drinks available to delegates, which certainly helped stop the onset of hypothermia for many. We were delighted by the content of the live debates and they certainly created a stir in the twittersphere. The workshops we hear were practical, purposeful and covered the agendas you said you wanted.

I was delighted that Andrew Lansley chose Voice to announce another £10m worth of funding for social enterprise investment, I was thrilled that the Prime Minister had understood the uniqueness of the sector in his video message and that Nick Hurd was willing to roll up his sleeves and chair a fascinating debate on the future of CSR. Great too that Vince Cable was on hand to reiterate his department’s commitment to social enterprise as a great and sensible way of doing business sustainably. And it was fab to see M&S, BP, BBC, Diageo, Google Logica, Natwest, O2 and many other corporates send along senior executives to learn to listen and to understand.

We don’t have final numbers but we’re expecting the final count to be over 1300 attendees. The success is in large part down to the energy, ideas and business you brought with you so thanks for your enthusiastic support.

The awards have always been a personal highlight of the year for me. It was such a celebration, such a high spirited, friendly, exciting event. I spent lots of time with the winners from the heats and the UK nominees, and I know just how much the recognition means for them all. Ecovation were up against Stonelaw High School Traders for the Young Social Enterprise of the Year Award. Stonelaw took the UK prize back to Scotland and I thought it was incredibly touching when the 25 young people from Ecovation instinctively stood and gave their competitors an impassioned standing ovation when Stonelaw were announced as the winners.

All the winners and nominees were great. “The best day of our lives” said Ecovation, and they enthused this shortly after they’d found out that they hadn’t won the UK prize. What an outstanding group of young people we have within our movement.

Alexander Armstrong was on sparkling form, Ed Miliband said it was like being back with his extended family.

It was a truly great event. The tireless work, the long days, the reliance on sugar, caffeine and nurofen that staff here at SEC have had to endure are temporarily over. We will rest a bit, but not sit back on our laurels. We’ve got a lot to do. We want to know your Voice experiences, what you loved, what you hated and what we could have done better. And we want your ideas and vision for the next big event – planning will start soon.

I’m off to the Social Enterprise World Forum on Sunday so watch out for my tweets. In South Africa, alongside looking at how social enterprise can catalyze sustainable development, we’ll be working on a global campaign strategy to support Mohammad Yunus. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Thanks for your support and hello to our new members who joined yesterday. Welcome aboard.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Social Enterprise Coalition offices as busy as they are now. We’re almost ready for what is turning into a spectacular Voice11, with a big final run on tickets in the last couple of days. When I say it’s not like anything we’ve done before, I really mean it. The online programme shows the massive breadth and sheer amount of stuff happening across the day. Delegates won’t know what to choose. It’s going to be like a festival where you’re not sure which act to see for fear of missing out (minus the alcohol of course – stay on for the Social Enterprise Awards for that!)

The build at The O2 has begun – the Live Quarter is being transformed. We listened to what people said after Voice10 in Cardiff and what they wanted next time so we hope it’s everything you asked for. As well as us having gone out there to bring you the most inspiring speakers and thinkers, it’s great that lots of people and organisations (including some VIPS) have come to us wanting to be at Voice11.

I can’t wait to see old friends from within the movement as well as welcome lots of new faces. It’ll be fantastic for us to be together under one (rather gigantic) roof. If you haven’t yet put your name down for the reception tonight, the day before the big event, please do.

From all the staff at SEC and our Board, we looking forward to seeing you and your colleagues there.