Tag Archives: social enterprise added value

Profiteering from the sick and dying

Lucy’s latest blog explores profiteering from delivery of NHS contracts. This blog was first published on the 2degrees network, see https://www.2degreesnetwork.com/groups/2degrees-community/resources/profiteering-sick-and-dying/

At the beginning of the summer there was an announcement that Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group plan to contract out their cancer and end of life care to the tune of £1.2bn. By my estimation, given the profit margins of at least 10%, this is at least £120m profit taken out of care services, for shareholders (and could be as much as £240m). I suspect there will be a lot of interest from the private sector as an opportunity to get into this potentially lucrative market.

Almost in tandem with this announcement there was a Daily Mail article which reported survey results showing most people do not care who delivers NHS services as long as it’s free. On the face of this, it is discouraging news for social enterprises. However, if you were to turn this around, given the latest health and care scandals, I’m sure that trust would be the number one priority. Social enterprises with their local knowledge, approachability and transparency are very well placed to engender this. They are not some faceless corporate just after a fast buck, because their number one reason for being set up is to deliver that service to fit their social mission.

I am really encouraged that the Labour Party is now talking about ring-fencing a number of public sector contracts for social enterprise delivery, although this does miss the point that there is an inherent difference in the way that a social enterprise delivers – because of its primary social motivation. I am due to meet with Chi Onwurah and I will be making this point. At least there is recognition that social enterprises do offer a good alternative.

My prediction is that in years to come, we will all be questioning the values (or lack of them) that were used to make public spending decisions.

There must be wider recognition that social enterprises not only often take a lower profit margin, but they are also reinvesting and devising a service that is aimed at the people they serve – a win-win! Just looking at the price and not what’s going on behind the scenes is not good enough. We need commissioners and politicians to understand this fundamental point.


Angels again…..

I was thinking hard about what I could say at the Rise Annual Conference this week when I had an email from my Special Angel.  Yes, really, apparently I have one that emails me every so often.  Angels are obviously keeping up with the times, although I am not sure whether she is on FB, twitter or for that matter Linked In!  but she is definitely not dancing on the head of a pin.

Anyway, whoever she is, she hoped that I would be inspired by her.  Her main issue to paraphrase was the corporatisation of the world and the frustration of those that want to stand for something different – something better, more colourful , imaginative  and inspirational.   That hits the nail on the head for me.

Social enterprises are not part of the establishment, they are trying to make a difference to people’s lives or the environment in which they live.  What keeps me going, are those stories and the levelling effect that social enterprises have on those that they encounter on the way.  They are reconnecting with those people that feel marginalised, and helping them to take control of their lives for themselves.

This year has been a challenging one for Rise and the Social Enterprise Mark and we have certainly done our share of fighting our corner.  But let’s take the opportunity to celebrate our progress.  We have started as we mean to go on, with taking brave and bold decisions.  We now have more 450 certified social enterprises (Mark holders) throughout the UK.  Each of these organisations is doing its bit, but we now need to use this collective power to challenge the corporate sector.  We have something to say that challenges the silo mentality of the conventional model.  We need to ensure that these businesses work with us on our terms – it should not just be greenwash.  We offer them answers and we should put a value on this – at the least they should be buying from us, ideally in the long term they will be converting to the social enterprise model.

Angels dancing on the head of a pin?

There is a medieval legend that religious scholars spent time and effort debating how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. Whether it is true or not, it has become a saying that illustrates the futile nature of some debates.

It’s an analogy I would draw when the circular debates start on the definition of the term social enterprise – it takes a lot of time and energy for no particular useful purpose.  I’m afraid that these types of discussions do not unify but serve a wider divisive purpose which marginalises and ensures that social enterprise will remain ‘an extra’ rather than having a ‘starring role’ in the future of the business world.

Pin dancers seem to have disproportionately loud and occasionally abusive voices and they marginalise the majority who choose not to engage in futility, rudeness and negativity but rather continue spending their time making a difference to others’ lives.   I know which one I would opt for any day.

There is a time for criticism, but I would always qualify that with the requirement to be constructive and explore ways forward.  I held a discussion at an academic conference last week about the Social Enterprise Mark and the vexatious issue of definition came up.  For me, these debates will carry on and we will listen and work with partners to try to address legitimate concerns – we have always said that the criteria are not set in stone.  I would also point out that we have consulted extensively in the development of the criteria over the years – but we can’t please everyone.  In addition, there will always be work that is underway, that we are not ready to talk about publicly; as I hinted at the conference, we are currently in discussions with trades unions and co-operative representatives.

Most importantly, engaging in the public domain about these debates means we are in danger of losing the plot and turning off potential converts to social enterprise in general.  The aim of the Mark was never to provide a ‘catch all’ or an exclusive club, but to enable the sector to come together, to promote itself more effectively to the outside world, in a way that is simple and uncomplicated.  By using a consistent message with a unique selling proposition, the term social enterprise can be understood by many more people. Already, there are almost 450 Mark holders integrating the Mark into their marketing strategies and in turn reaching thousands of their own stakeholders – all learning what’s different about social enterprise.

Anyone who has constructive suggestions about further criteria development, wanting to work in a co-operative and collaborative way, please get in touch: media@socialenterprisemark.org.uk

Supply chains must be challenged

Further to a recent debate on the Guardian’s social enterprise network, focussing on ways social enterprises could engage with big business, I believe its time social enterprises engage more actively with large corporations and other businesses to increase their impact and financial sustainability, moving on from the traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda.

Over the past decade or so social enterprises have been encouraged to build their businesses in order to deliver government policy, through public sector procurement and other ways.  Government strategies focused on this and the sector largely followed on.  In fact, the sector was encouraged to take ownership under the last government, and sometimes it became difficult to distinguish government policy from our own growth and sustainability strategies  – probably further exacerbated by the funding streams available centrally and regionally.

I’m not saying that all of this was bad, but it made us complacent.  I remember at the time, my friend Nigel Kershaw from the Big Issue saying, ‘What about social enterprises which operate in the open market?  Where are they in these discussions and policies?’   He pointed out that the Big Issue was borne out of a recession and had learned lessons about how to survive.

In these times of austerity, we still seem to be clinging to the same hopes that we had about turning towards government for answers.

These hopes are likely to be dashed.

We need to think much more independently of government; to promote the benefits of buying from a social enterprise; to be much more forthright and clear in our efforts  to achieve this.

In discussions with Social Enterprise Mark holders, there is a sense of frustration that much publicised support from both government and the wider private sector is just rhetoric.

We need to start to hold them to account in the ways that they too do business.  Supply chains must be challenged.  If business and government really believe in social enterprise, why aren’t they buying from them more widely? I’m not just talking about the delivery of public services – what about catering, events management, HR advice, marketing – the list is endless.

Social enterprises, of course, struggle with the procurement processes of both government and business – which often favour the big ‘standardised’ product.  But as a colleague pointed out, although it might be more complicated for the buyer, the rewards are greater AND benefits  society and the environment (… trading for people and planet).  Buying from social enterprises has the benefits of using resources efficiently to add value to the product or service and in addition, provides an alternative model for CSR.  The Social Enterprise Mark guarantees this;  therefore making  a compelling case to buy from Social Enterprise Mark holders.

Just check out the directory of Mark holders – they are a comprehensive and ready source of genuine social enterprises that can prove it!

Useful links