Emma Harrison: Discuss

Posted: 28 May 2012, in Blog

Emma Harrison: Discuss

Our wonderful UK Coalition Government is cocking it up in relation to their avowed support for social enterprises.

When the Coalition spouted a load of old guff about helping social enterprises, it quickly became apparent to those social enterprises trying for major government “back to work” contracts that that particular game was for others – not them. The Tory mantra that the private sector would deliver public sector contracts became the prevailing direction in government policy. So no surprise there then despite the rhetoric.

When the Coalition sought to stimulate social enterprise investment innovation and reform this was seen by some (including me) as a good and necessary thing. However, these reforms are based on a government led (not sector led) debate about the primacy of private profit and investor returns rather than SROI. We’ve been shafted again it seems. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

When Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit reforms (sic) will lead to increased poverty, rising levels of domestic abuse and social housing evictions  –  and financially weaker social landlords, isn’t there a (one nation) Tory or Lib Dem in the land who will point out the perverse outcomes of this stupid reform (sic)?

Anyway, the bold Emma has made £70m or so off the back of her firm being a DWP Partner (Main and Sub-Contractor) charged with the delivery of “Welfare to Work” programmes. A4E is her firm and to be frank they were given a licence to print money. I do wonder if a civil servant ever (timorously) queried if A4E intended to make a profit as we all know what the civil service reaction is if a social enterprise intends to make a profit.

Accusations about widespread fraud and “dodgy or non-existent” jobs have now emerged; the Commons Public Accounts Committee are having private sessions with whistle-blowers and the DWP in denying that no wrongdoing is going on, seem to have gone all Admiral Nelson  –  “I see no ships”. To be fair, the DWP did end a contract last week as being “too great a risk”. Quite what that risk is isn’t clear, but I’ll let your imagination run riot on that one.

What I savour about the Emma story is that she was portrayed in the media as some sort of angel and became a government adviser on jobs and families – a Government Tsarina if you will. I imagine she’ll be off the Xmas card list now but A4E still have big contracts so that is the main thing obviously. The dispiriting thing about this story however is that it was actually New Labour who set Emma on her way with an £80m New Deal contract back in the day. Blair, Brown, Mandelson et al – don’t you just miss them?

Now far be it for me to query the role and needs of private equity in all this but here is a wee thought. Next time you meet a Coalition Minister or an MP of the Coalition parties, please take the opportunity to explain to them that if they actually trusted social entrepreneurs and removed some of the barriers to their business development, their attempts to address exclusion, unemployment and poverty would be improved. This is because the personal private profit motive for real social entrepreneurs does not exist.


NOTE: This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of Social Enterprise Scotland or endorse any political position