The Public Sector and Social Enterprise Have a Shared Purpose

Posted: 20 August 2015, in Sector News


The public sector and social enterprise have a shared purpose

Our The Scotsman article from 20 August 2015 (original, unedited version below).

Scottish social enterprises have been working in partnership with local authorities and other public agencies for years. These relationships have been, and continue to be, mutually beneficial. Whether this is about opening up public procurement to social enterprises, joint events and forums or innovations like Public Social Partnerships.

Of course some relationships have their challenges too. Real barriers remain for social enterprises at a local level in some areas of the country and within Scotland-wide public bodies. Sometimes there’s a suspicion and lack of trust about what social enterprise is all about. There’s still a clear need for awareness-raising and education for local authority officers and local elected members, as well as for those working in the NHS and other parts of the public sector.

Certainly there’s a responsibility for the social enterprise community to continue to promote our key messages, from the potential for saving taxpayers’ money, to flexibility and innovation, as well as to the wider community benefits of social enterprise activity. But it’s also in the interests of the public sector to reach out and work together with our business community on an equal basis, with a genuine commitment to fundamental reform and new ways of delivering services.

Central to this is a clear logic in working together, as we share the same values of public service, delivering quality goods and services to everyone and helping to make Scotland a better place to live. Our purpose is the same. Social entrepreneurs may not be working in the public sector but they very much practice public service, alongside their charitable heart and a commitment to rigorous business efficiency.

There are lots of examples of good work taking place across Scotland, with strong partnerships being formed. Linsay Chalmers is Network Coordinator for Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network (ESEN), one of the most developed local networks for social enterprises in Scotland:

“Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network works closely with public sector partners in the city to create the conditions for social enterprises to thrive. In 2013, representatives from social enterprises, the public sector and the private sector came together to develop an ambitious Social Enterprise Strategy for Edinburgh. The strategy identified new ways that social enterprises and the public sector could work together. As a result, the City of Edinburgh Council supported ESEN to run the Buy the Good Stuff marketing campaign that encourages people to buy from social enterprises and created a specialist Social Enterprise Adviser in the Edinburgh Business Gateway service. It’s also led to NHS Lothian creating opportunities for social enterprises to bid for contracts and to come forward with ideas around tackling health inequalities.”

National developments include the Ready for Business programme, a social enterprise-led consortium delivering the Scottish Government’s Developing Markets for Third Sector Providers. The core aim of the project is to embed social value in the commissioning and procurement of public services and recognise and increase the role that social enterprises and charities can play in providing those services.

Ready for Business works with local government, health boards and other public bodies to raise awareness of social value and promote tools such as Community Benefit Clauses (CBCs) and Public Social Partnerships (PSPs) through events, workshops, practical guidance for public sector officers and consultancy support. The programme promotes vital mutual understanding between public providers and social enterprises and encourages equal partnerships to deliver services.

CBCs are about organisations with public contracts delivering additional outcomes e.g. creating training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups and engagement with SMEs. CBCs can therefore benefit social enterprises as the contract holder or within bigger supply chains.

Some of the most exciting innovations are around things like Public Social Partnerships. Ready for Business has now engaged with over 40 PSPs, notably the Low Moss Prison Prisoner Support Pathway, that supports convicted short-term prisoners and those on remand, both in prison and after their release into the community to ensure access to the right services at the right time.

PSPs mean involving social enterprises at the very start – and more meaningfully – in the commissioning and design of a range of public services. PSPs are about social enterprises or charities, along with the public sector (and potentially private sector) developing voluntary partnerships to design a new service or re-design a current one, based on explicit feedback from those who actually use public services.

The PSP then builds in a pilot project, before a competitive procurement or other route such as grant funding. Key to all this is equality and flexibility – those taking part share responsibility for governing it and for managing the design process. The skills and expertise of all organisations are then used to their fullest, so that services are innovative and efficient and maximise social impact.

These are just some of the ways that Scotland is leading the way in social enterprise and public sector collaboration but we need to do so much more. Social Enterprise Scotland jointly founded the Social Enterprise Local Authority Group (SELAG), bringing together Council officers working on social enterprise development. There are also opportunities arising with the new Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act, around transferring public land and buildings to community groups and social enterprises. These initiatives further enhance the working relationship.

We shouldn’t be afraid of radical public sector reform – and we shouldn’t confuse this reform with public sector cuts and sometimes damaging privatisation. Reform should be positive and should improve services. We must recognise that there are genuine, workable alternatives to a current trend that prioritises big, remote outsourcing companies. With their main purpose of shareholder profits, disconnected from Scotland’s communities and with targets more important people, these cost-cutting suppliers simply can’t deliver long-term, positive outcomes for society. That approach is a false economy.

It’s the diverse mix of social enterprises that can – and already are – delivering public services that put communities, people and our environment first. An enduring alliance between the social enterprise community and the public sector is the best way forward, with a relationship based on mutual trust. Social entrepreneurs hold out a genuine hand of friendship to all those working in our public services. We look forward to greater collaboration and to building the social enterprise alternatives together.