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Posts Tagged ‘Work Programme’

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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There was something quite delicious in seeing a social enterprise newspaper (for me the Guardian with its ownership sitting with the Scott Trust is a social enterprise, however they describe themselves!) be value led, tenacious, committed, and ultimately seek to protect democracy and ensure that the laws of the land are applied to all, no matter what their position in our society.

I know the rolling news can become repetitive and as a result a wee bit tiresome, but let us never forget just how serious this piece of news is. It’s not about celebrities’ right to privacy being infringed. It’s not even about the appalling and unbelievable decisions made to invade the lives of families affected by dreadful crimes. It’s about a private company having vast influence, verging on control of our democracy, having been exposed.  Well done to The Guardian, Chris Bryant MP, Norman Fowler MP and Tom Watson MP – all of whom were under all sorts of pressure to back down and go away.

But whilst the story keeps unravelling, other pieces of news have been almost entirely lost. The ‘opening public services’ white paper emerged yesterday with more of a whimper than a bang. We were all mightily frustrated. We worked hard to make the voice of social enterprise be heard; we were even lined up be on Radio 4 Today, then the PM programme, but the story was dropped at the last minute as more News International revelations emerged. One might say a good day to bury bad news.

The white paper (though actually positive in parts) poses as serious a threat to our public services and to the vision of a more plural economy in which social enterprises can grow their contribution to economic and social recovery – and demonstrate that Big Society isn’t just about volunteering.

I’m concerned that these proposed reforms will create an unequal playing field in which social enterprises are unable to compete with large private sector providers for public sector contracts.  In too many instances we still struggle to find the capital required or do not have the scale to compete with big private businesses in public sector markets, where the commissioning process favours the big – and by design excludes the small and the medium.

The frustration of government that a public sector monopoly stifles efficiency, innovation and value will not be resolved by replacing a public sector monopoly with a private sector oligopoly. It hasn’t worked in transport deregulation or the introduction of competition following the privatisation of our utilities.  And the risks of getting it wrong in other parts of the public sector are very, very serious.

Yes reform is necessary, but these plans must protect our shared interests in public services, not put them at risk.  Without the necessary safeguards, these proposals will allow big private providers to dominate public sector markets.  Taxpayers’ money will flow into profit seeking organisations that exist only to satisfy the needs of their shareholders.  Public services must operate for the communities and people they serve, nobody else.

The Government’s plans to extend Payment by results will put private sector organisations at an automatic advantage.  They’ll simply use their stronger balance sheets and ability to attract private investment to win contracts.

We only have to look to the Department for Work and Pensions Work Programme to see that when markets open up, large private sector providers move in and squeeze out smaller organisations.  A tiny proportion of the contracts went to social enterprises despite it being hailed by Government as a boost for the Big Society. What happened to the WISE group in Scotland was scandalous and had their whole value been considered within their tender they would surely have romped home to victory.  Their smaller size and access to capital was their downfall, NOT the quality, design or track record in delivery – all of which I know were outstanding.

A You Gov poll carried out for us shows that people do not want the private sector to run public services.  Our research was carried out before the Southern Cross debacle and there’ll be even more cynicism now about big corporations and their involvement in our national treasures.  It is encouraging that the majority of those surveyed said they wanted public services to be run by social enterprises.  We hope the politicians are taking note of this public opinion.

The important question now is how serious is the Government’s want for social enterprises and mutuals to play a bigger role in public service delivery.  The country’s policy makers need to lever in investment and infrastructure to ensure that there are enough of them in the marketplace able to deliver.  But the £10million support programme announced by ministers last year to do just that, has not yet materialised.  It’s an anxious waiting game.

I am aware that social enterprises out there delivering public services share my fears. A few glimpses of the trends emerging from the forthcoming state of social enterprise survey – due early August – say they are.  We are all becoming increasingly uneasy if the opportunities promised by Government will materialise:

  • Social enterprises trading mainly with the public sector anticipate they will make half of all the likely redundancies within the social enterprise business community over the next 12 months.
  • Social enterprises doing most of their business with the public sector view the coming years with gloom, with markedly lower business confidence than their social enterprise peers trading with consumers and private businesses.
  • Of the social enterprises trading mainly with the public sector, two-thirds anticipate that their growth will come from diversifying away from working with the public sector (64%).

These are sombre findings in tough times.  But we won’t give up the fight.

Till next time.

Peter

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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…!

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