New Blog – So You Wanna Do Business With the State?

Posted: 22 August 2011, in Blog

One of the problems social enterprises face is that they aren’t the biggest businesses in the world. This matters because the hype around the sector gives out a message that we are an alternative way of doing things – but not to the scale required to revolutionise public services.

When it comes to the procurement practices of the State, we also lose out because large private sector businesses hoover up the best deals. They even have the deal to run Boris’s bike scheme in London – and that must grate the feelings of all the cycling social enterprise folk in London a lot.

I checked SERCO out as they are a significant global player in the public services market. Apart from the usual fine words on their website the competitive nature of their global business becomes readily apparent when you read this doc concerning itself with neutrality in the procurement process, the need for a level playing field and the problem of “favours”.

Have a read and you will see how arguments are being made against us (in the name of fair competition) by those with the resources, clout and access to the highest levels of the UK administration.

On one level, it could be argued that because of devolution, we do things differently up here but I’m not so sure. Reserved matters like Welfare are big business and a firm like SERCO sees itself as able to operate in every sector from defence to bicycle schemes and everything in between. I wonder how much business they do in Scotland in total and whether any of us could actually compete with them for a slice. Who among us has the resources, cash and acumen to compete with genuinely global rivals?

Anyway, we need to have our arguments ready so that we can win the politics of the procurement debate but we also need to win more business. Can I suggest therefore that we act like entrepreneurs.

Rather than complain about SERCO et al we should be looking to do deals with them so that we can develop capacity and business acumen so that one day we can compete –on the grounds that we are the best.

This will take courage from social entrepreneurs because this will involve asking hard questions about profit, working with, for and against the private sector and having the scale to convince backers that they will invest in us. That might also mean that certain tenets of social entrepreneurialism are up for debate. For example, are our ownership and democracy structures fit for business, capitalisation and large scale business growth?

Alternatively , we can stay small and continue to complain about how the SERCOs of the world have got “all the deals” and we can’t compete and everything is so unfair!

Anyway – have a gander at the doc – I recommend the bits that discuss our tax breaks and other “advantages”.


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