• In defence of a balanced NHS market, with social enterprise increasingly at its core

    Andrew Laird from Mutual Ventures gives his views on recent events…

    A couple of weeks ago Circle, a private company with a substantial staff ownership share, pulled out of running Hinchingbrooke hospital claiming that it was “no longer viable under current terms”. This is at the same time as the hospital being placed in special measures following a recent CQC inspection. Circle had taken on the running of Hinchingbrooke in 2012 when the hospital was facing closure but it was unable to sustain the service after finding cuts and unexpected demand at A&E. With the NHS so high on the agenda, politicians and interest groups were quick to comment with the Labour party questioning the wisdom of appointing Circle in the first place (although they had themselves played a role in the process prior to the current government making a final decision) and the unions claiming that it had been “a disaster waiting to happen when you get the private sector involved in running a hospital”. The reactionary view was well summarised by David Owen writing in the Guardian this week.

    My purpose is not to analyse the reasons for Circle’s withdrawal and it certainly isn’t to take political sides. My concern is that, within the pressure cooker of a general election campaign, this situation will be inflated to construct a case against any sort of alternative NHS provision. There is no escaping the fact that this is a body blow for those who advocate a mixed market for NHS services in which social enterprises are increasingly forming a crucial and positive part.

    Any retreat would be a huge step backwards for a market that is starting to edge towards a productive balance between different models of provision. It would also demonstrate a very short memory as it wasn’t so long ago that in-house provision of services were under severe attack following the Mid-Staffordshire scandal. This prompted Chris Ham and others to recommend staff-led mutuals model as an alternative model of provision. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that many NHS trusts are in a much worse financial state than Hinchingbrooke but are being artificially propped up by central government which has to borrow heavily to do it – it’s simply not sustainable.
    Those who argue against a mixed market are instinctively worried about the profit motive that non-public sector providers might have. It’s not hard to see why this concern exists. At present the public services market is dominated by in-house public sector delivery and traditional out-sourcing to the private sector – who usually look to take a profit.

    For there to be a genuinely balanced market there needs to be a mix which also includes substantial numbers of social enterprises – especially if they are owned and controlled by the staff who deliver the service. These types of organisations occupy the wonderful middle ground between state and traditional private sector. They have the strong public character and ethos of the public sector but also employ the commercial discipline of the private sector.

    Each of the three models has its particular strengths: state delivery tends to be free from external financial motives and as such is generally protected from unplanned financial failure; private provision can create scale, efficiency and system-level innovation; and social enterprises are usually smaller scale and focused on social impact and innovation at a local level. It shouldn’t be the government’s job (national or local) to pick a winning model but it can commission services more wisely to allow a balanced market place to emerge where each model keeps the others “honest” through demonstrating their particular strengths.

    In my view, a genuinely mixed and balanced market is the only chance the NHS has but the middle ground (i.e. the realm of social enterprise) needs support to rapidly grow and develop so it can hold its own against the more traditional and established models.

    So, the challenge for politicians is to not overreact to Hinchingbrooke and to resist the temptation to make short term political points at the expense of the long term health of the NHS. The challenge for NHS commissioners is to adopt a commissioning strategy which ensures a balanced market and real choice for service users.

    Andrew Laird, Mutual Ventures

    Mutual Ventures works with local authorities, NHS organisations and other public bodies to support them develop innovative new delivery models for their services.

  • Peter Holbrook: An enterprising year on which to build

    The chief executive of Social Enterprise UK picks his highlights from the past 12months and looks ahead to 2015

    Peter Holbrook blog: An enterprising year on which to build

    Looking back on 2014

    It has been a good year for Social Enterprise UK and the wider social enterprise movement. With the help of our members, we spent 2014 being creative, innovative and resourceful to win campaigns and grow the sector.

    These are some of the highlights:

    1. Social enterprise across the land

    We kick-started the year with the launch of the Social Enterprise Places programme. Swathes of the country are being recognised as hot spots for social enterprise, including Cornwall, Digbeth, Plymouth, Oxfordshire and Sunderland. Within those areas, new markets are being built for social enterprises, encouraging trade between social enterprise businesses, charities, local government, and the public.

    2. Getting the nation buying social

    The UK’s first Social Saturday took place in September, calling on the nation to unleash its spending power and buy from social enterprises. We engaged politicians, and mobilised communities and groups to raise awareness of social enterprises within towns, cities and villages. The campaign reached millions on social media and events were held across the country to celebrate the day. Social enterprises that took part in the day saw a marked increase in sales.

    Continuing our mission to get more people and organisations buying from social enterprises, we launched the first Buy Social Directory in June with the support of City of London Corporation, Aspire Group and Cabinet Office. The online directory is connecting private and public sector buyers with social enterprises offering products and services.

    3. Embedding social value

    Coinciding with the anniversary of the Social Value Act, SEUK co-hosted the UK’s first Social Value Summit. The event brought together 450 delegates from a range of sectors to share best practice, network and generate ideas about the future of the Act.

    Meanwhile, we used our research to press for further commitments to social value, highlighting a number of steps local authorities can take, such as nominating a lead on social value and measuring the social value they create. The Communities Count report considered how social value is having an impact across the country. It found that more than two-thirds of local authorities and housing associations said delivering social value led to better services and community relations.

    4. Going global

    Research also helped shine a light on the social enterprise seen in new markets. We worked with the British Council on the Exporting Social Enterprise Report, which found a significant number of social enterprises are exporting. However, almost half of respondents said they received no support with their export activity, identifying a need for more joined up working between support bodies in this field.

    5. Giving social enterprises the credit they deserve

    Away from policy and campaigning, the Social Enterprise UK Awards added some glitz and glamour to 2014. The shortlist was bursting with inspirational examples of social enterprises that make an enormous different to society. Divine Chocolate was named overall winner for its work to improve the lives of cocoa producers in developing countries, while operating in a fiercely competitive chocolate industry.

    6. Taking social enterprise to the top

    Through the Social Economy Alliance, our influence in government circles is growing, too.

    The movement rallied together when it crowdfunded a series of bold adverts in Westminster Tube station, to grab the attention of politicians on their way to Parliament. The images launched the Social Economy Alliance’s manifesto campaign. The adverts received widespread coverage and recognition from politicians and opinion formers alike, and made people stop, think and hopefully alter preconceptions they have about social enterprises.

    The manifesto includes 25 recommendations to help build a more social economy in the UK. It is the result of a year of intensive policy grind, involving many months of consultation with the sector.

    This work is already translating into government policy.

    In September the Lord Young, the PM’s advisor on enterprise, announced a review of the Social Value Act, with an extension of the Act in mind. The Chancellor’s autumn statement delivered good news for the social enterprise sector. It outlined plans to strengthen the existing Social Investment Tax Relief, measures which we have campaigned for alongside our partners. Parliament’s commitment to social enterprises was evident when, a year after the Speaker of the House of Commons vowed to ‘put Buy Social at the heart of Parliament’, the House of Commons and House of Lords were accredited as a ‘Buy Social’ organisation.

    What is in store for 2015?

    The most high-profile event next year in the UK will be the General Election. We will be provoking debate and promoting our pro-social enterprise manifesto right up to election day in May – our members expect and deserve nothing less. In the second half of the year, we will turn our energy and insight towards engaging and lobbying a new government. Here we will need your help to take the fight to the top.

    Our reputation as an authority on social enterprise will be enhanced with the results of our latest State of Social Enterprise Survey. Published in summer 2015, the report will be more in-depth and detailed than ever before.

    A key aspiration for the next 12 months is to continue to involve our members in everything we do. We have a growing membership and are attracting organisations from a number of sectors. We will continue to build and forge partnerships with housing associations, as well as push for more members from academic bodies such as universities and colleges.

    The Social Enterprise UK Awards will be back next year even bigger and better, getting more of the country’s best social enterprises in one room.

    A personal highlight of the year will be the return to Europe of the Social Enterprise World Forum in July. I have been its chairman since 2012. The aim of the event is to encourage participation and exchange among social enterprises on a global platform. Speakers this year will include Martin Burt, founder of Fundación Paraguaya; Harish Hande who founded SELCO-India; and Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organisation that promotes sanitation practices among the low-income population.

    With renewed determination, we will spend 2015 pushing social enterprises ever more into the public spotlight.

    All that is left for me is to wish our members and partner organisations a Happy New Year Remember to keep up to date with Social Enterprise UK on our social media channels.


  • SITR: what it means for social tech, and why that matters

    Guest blogger William Heath, Chairman of social enterprise and SEUK member Mydex CIC, told us today what recent changes to the SITR mean for tech entrepreneurs…

    Social tech entrepreneurs are jumping for joy at the changes to the social investment tax relief (SITR) limits announced last week by the Chancellor. Why is changing a tax limit so important, and for that matter why is social tech itself so important?

    Increasingly we live online. But our lives online operate according to rules coded into machines, executed without empathy or humour. These rules are devised by the companies that dominate the Internet: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber and a plethora of other businesses. Typically these are backed by venture capitalists who want growth, profit and exit by way of stock market flotation or sale to one of the giants of the day.

    So the rules on which the colossal collective power of the Internet – and all the devices we use connected to it – operate are fixed to meet a legal and contractual obligation to maximise shareholder value. The contracts we sign to use these services – the terms and conditions – aren’t pretty, or favourable to the individual. It’s hardly surprising no-one reads them. We pay with our attention to ads, with the exploitation of our personal data and loss of privacy.

    The honourable exception to this near-universal state is the social tech sector. The global free software movement. Services such as Mozilla or Openstreetmap exist for the greater common good. They do not exploit or seek to control users.

    The fledgling social tech sector in the UK is full of bright ideas. Nominet Trust, which supports several, lists it’s 100 top social tech ventures including 19 entries from London. Nesta showcases examples from cancer research to open corporate data here. More established success stories include the globally recognised MySociety democracy and civic activism services. Patient Opinion carefully and responsibly brings patient stories into the bureaucratic decision-making of the NHS to great effect. Social tech can be extraordinarily effective, but it’s a long hard path. It requires not just ideas and effort, but sustained investment. And there’s pretty much zero support from conventional VC investors – the rare breed who combine investment funds with an understanding of tech and markets.

    Last April we wrote about the very promising emergence of SITR, which brings the tax benefits of the Enterprise Investment Scheme to investment in social enterprises. The problem was the limit of under £300,000 per organisation: sufficient to prove an idea but nothing like sufficient rapidly to scale a game-changing business. Subject to EU state aid approval, that limit is to be changed to £5m per year up to a maximum of £15m from April 2015. That is sufficient to create a tech business ready to change the world.

    Suddenly social investment in tech charities and social enterprises becomes extremely attractive to investors who want to see social impact and a good return over time. It’s perhaps sad when one realises that a tweak in tax regulations is the most exciting news of the day. But the implications of SITR for social tech and for people who use online services are profound and promising. Let’s fulfil them.

  • It’s Our Economy, Stupid

    Reacting to the anti-politics as usual mood, Dan Gregory, SEUK’s Policy Advisor, has written the following piece which appeared in the Huffington Post:

    Something’s happening. But our political elite haven’t quite grasped it yet. The SNP surge, the rise of UKIP and the Greens, calls for devolution for English cities and a luvvie-wuvvie-lution from Russell Brand have left the established Westminster parties confused. How can they respond to such diverse social critiques? It’s difficult to fight off attacks from all angles.

    But the major parties should be better able to respond to the common economic frustrations of the British people, channelled through these very disparate streams. While our ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ can maintain their lofty moral superiority over the narrow-minded social values of UKIP’s largely provincial support, a dose of modesty, some listening and learning could help them tune into the economic mood of the nation.

    On one hand, people are tired of the dominance of economics itself. A few months ago, Nigel Farage broke with years of liberal consensus by pointing out that when it comes to immigration, his position went beyond the economic case. However distasteful to many of us, it’s clear his supporters feel strongly about this stuff – whatever the LSE’s cost and benefit spreadsheets say. Meanwhile, the Greens’ very ethos is based upon people and planet being at least as important as economic imperatives. Russell Brand told Evan Davis he didn’t have time for his clever graphs.

    On the other hand, there is an incredibly simple argument here, which is a sort of economic one. In short, we’re fed up with other people running our stuff. While the perceived enemy differs – Westminster, global capitalism, the 1%, Brussels, bloody foreigners or transnational corporations – the solution is a common one. We want our ownership back.

    This is where the Big Society nearly got it right. But at the heart of Cameron’s Big Society was – again – a focus only on social structures and not economic ones. The Big Society was about public services and the role of the state. It was never about goods and services and the role of the market. Sure, most people think the state got too big and public services got too faceless but they weren’t crying out to run their own hospitals. They weren’t taking to the streets with pitchforks to demand the right to attend the quarterly finance sub-committee of their local children and adolescent’s mental health trust. Similarly, Ed Miliband’s People Powered Public Services might be a nice idea but it’s not one which will see him swept victoriously into Number 10.

    What’s been missing here are policies to enable not only social but economic participation. Crucially, we are crying out to have a greater say in how the economy is run. We want to start up our own businesses, get better deals through collective purchasing, cut out the middlemen through new web-based technologies, switch energy suppliers if we’re not happy, have more responsive train franchises and more choice across a range of critical markets. Some of us might want to buy local or buy social. Some of us want to move our money. We want more control.

    Most politicians are lagging behind. We hear almost nothing about fundamental reform of these markets to empower citizens.Labour’s business team are terrified of upsetting the business community. Conservatives like George Osbourne and Matthew Hancock don’t seem to have grasped how business diversity can strengthen markets. Vince Cable has been distracted from his genuine interest in economic alternatives by the relentless grind of departmental business.

    But a few key figures in the main parties have picked up on this desire for more economic agency across the country.Blue Labour’s John Cruddas is leading Labour’s Policy Review. Big Society’s Steve Hilton is back to inject new ideas into Number 10. David Boyle, the Lib Dem’s Choice Tsar will help shape the Lib Dem’s thinking as the next election arrives. And remarkably, ownership is making a comeback. And this time it’s about active ownership and engaged economic citizens…

    In energy,the Lib Dems’ Ed Davey has created powers for local communities to have the Right to Buy a stake in renewable energy infrastructure projects.

    In football,Labour have proposed greater ownership powers for fans, giving them seats on the Board and a Right to Buy a slice of a club’s shares. The Conservatives are also looking at overcoming barriers to clubs becoming supporter-owned.

    In housing, the Community Land Trust Network’s ideas for a (not-yet-snappy-enough) Presumption in Favour of Community Involvement in new developments has been welcomed by a number of influential backbench Tory MPs.

    In some respects, this is perhaps textbook right-of-centre economics. Successful and resilient markets need diversity with many buyers and sellers, engaged market actors and new entrants to guard against an oligopoly of too-big-to-fails. But there’s also a leftist tradition being revived here (with Clause 4 back from the dead) of putting the means of production in the hands of the workers, the fans, the customers and passengers. This is about the invisible hand and it’s about ownership.

    Crudely, this isn’t Big Society not Big Government but more like Big Society not Big Business. Although this really is too crude – Big Business is also often ahead of politicians in recognising how change is inevitable. At this year’s Tory party conference, the likes of Shell, the British Bankers Association and others were more advanced in their thinking about diversity on boards, for example, or corporate transparency than the politicians. When the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Charles are calling for capitalism to be fundamentally reformed, the ancient institutions of church and crown are way ahead of the state.

    But over the coming months, nudged by new political threats, there is a chance for the traditional parties to go beyond a stumbling, scattergun approach to enabling economic participation. There is an opportunity here to attract the dispossessed, left cold by a political class who for too long have been ambivalent about ownership. We want a shareholding democracy and we want power to the people! It’s our economy, stupid.

    Follow Dan Gregory on Twitter:

  • Mydex CIC, making big changes to individuals and organisations with technical innovation

    Mydex CIC (Community Interest Company), one of our members, is a great example of how you can make big changes as a social enterprise through technical innovation and a desire for the common good. We asked David Alexander, CEO and Principal Architect of the Mydex CIC Platform, to shed some light on Mydex CIC’s core values and how its innovations in personal data can radically benefit both individuals and organisations in their interactions online.

    Mydex CIC’s social purpose is to empower individuals to take control over how their personal data is used and shared online allowing them to manage their lives better.

    As local authorities and public sector organisations face the challenges of budget cuts and increasing citizen expectations, Mydex CIC offers a Platform that equips all parties to achieve trusted data exchange with fully informed consent. Individuals are given a portable, privacy-friendly MydexID and Personal Data Store completely free of charge. Their MydexID can be used across the internet without the downside of social login where the individual is not always aware of how their data is being used. At the core of the service is the individual’s Personal Data Store in which they can accumulate data about their lives and manage the sharing of it with the organisations and services they choose to.

    Organisations such as local authorities are offered a contract to connect to individuals Personal Data Stores using Mydex CIC. Mydex’s Personal Data and Identity Services allow encrypted, structured data to flow in both directions, with the permission of the individual. This provides a dynamic way for local authorities to engage with citizens now and in the future based on trusted two-way data sharing. It also means they can securely deliver verified attributes about an individual to their Personal Data Store based on information they already hold about this individual and transactions that have taken place.

    Having one place to go to access an individual’s data means saving a substantial amount of time, effort and money trying to remedy human error and incomplete information. If the individual is in complete control of the data they share – if they feel like a participant in the process – they will naturally see the benefits of engaging with their local authority. A connection to Mydex CIC supports the move to ‘Digital by Default’ and the ability to ‘join up’ cross-agency services safely and securely. It offers costs savings, the opportunity for greater personalisation, to cut costs and risks and build trust.

    A local authority can spend up to £120m on letters per year. A connection to the Mydex Platform could reduce this cost by £117m, equipping every citizen with their own Mydex Personal Data Store. For the cost of sending one first-class letter (now 62p), a local authority could have unlimited, secure digital communication with an individual for 10 years.

    Having a Mydex Personal Data Store with verified data means citizens are also on their way to being pre-equipped with the level of identity assurance needed to access government services online, such as benefits, via GOV.UK Verify.  Mydex CIC is one of the five current Government certified GOV.UK Verify identity assurance providers.  The Mydex CIC service is live, certified and UK-based, and can operate at scale today.

    In terms of an interesting case study, Mydex CIC recently helped demonstrate a new approach to the trusted exchange of verified attributes by collaborating earlier this year with Warwickshire County Council, the Government Digital Service and the Open Identity Exchange (OIX). The study states in its conclusion (p.14):

    “Test users commented that they “love it”, ”think it’s brilliant” and wonder: “Why on earth wouldn’t you do it this way”. They feel secure, in control and like the idea “it keeps the naughty boys out”.

    For local authorities it is a way of achieving channel shift and digital by default, and at the same time realising tremendous cost savings.

    For attribute providers it is a way of driving out costs and improving performance. Many attribute providers are also service providers and could benefit in both ways.

    Across central and local government and beyond, attribute exchange along with identity assurance have the potential to become a game changer.”

    The paper outling the findings can be downloaded at:

    Five interesting points about Mydex CIC’s social impact

    • The legal status as CIC means Mydex CIC is asset-locked – as a Community Interest Company its duty is to serve the community of individuals who use personal data online above any other obligations. Mydex CIC cannot be sold to another entity which is not similarly asset locked. It is also subject to a dividend cap which dictates that it must reinvest 65% of all its profits back into furthering its community purpose; the other 35% can be distributed to its shareholders.
    • For organisations that stand to make huge operational savings by connecting to Mydex CIC, the cost is negligible. (Ten years of secure encrypted digital interaction with one individual for less than the price of a single letter) and easier, secure online identification.
    • Mydex CIC can help transform public services through rapid low cost deployment of Personal Data and Identity Services.
    • For the individuals Mydex CIC serves, this means there is quick, convenient, secure and easy access to the applications and services they need online plus the benefit of having to only remember one set of credentials.
    • Mydex CIC is committed to and passionate about reducing the digital divide (digital inclusion of all members of society). In the longer term this is a broad benefit to the whole economy and to society. It is a substantial contribution towards a fairer, high-trust, low-cost, high-innovation society and economy in which individuals have regained control over their own affairs.  Simply put, personal control over personal data is good for everyone.

    To get in touch, email : or visit :

  • The Intern

    To mark Living Wage Week, Social Enterprise UK’s Media Officer Sam looks back on his time as an unpaid intern and suggests social enterprises should aim to be ahead of the pack when it comes to fair pay.


    I never expected a job to pay a decent wage. That’s the outlook I developed during the first year of my working life, which I spent fulfilling a string of unpaid internships.

    Graduating during a recession didn’t do me any favours. The workforce was vulnerable and it was certainly an employer’s market. I wasn’t alone. My friends and I joined an army of young people, ready to get stuck in to work, at any cost to ourselves. Having only just left education, most of us had no idea of how a career should begin: working for free seemed like the done thing.

    Fortunately, after a year of providing my services free of charge, I managed to escape the free-labour market. I became a fully-fledged member of the ‘normal’ working world, with workers’ rights, holiday and salary included. I hope the generation that started work in this way won’t under-value their skills and efforts long into their paid careers. But I have a strong hunch that we will, and that the downturn will have a long ‘tail’ when it comes to the confidence and bargaining abilities of the future workforce.

    And the scourge of unpaid work persists – every time one of us escapes unpaid work, there are many more young people desperate to take our unpaid internship places. And there are plenty of employers willing to play ball. In June, Intern Aware and YouGov released new research showing that a quarter of businesses either do not pay their interns at all, or pay less than the national minimum wage.

    A major problem with unpaid internships is that very rarely are interns expected to do anything less than they would in a properly paid position. Internships are now often used as an excuse to increase an organisation’s core workforce without the appropriate investment to back it up.

    Some might argue that in a tough job market young people need opportunities like unpaid internships to help them find work. But this way of thinking is where the problem begins.

    Certainly, my unpaid experience has left its mark on me. Jaded from my early years in work,  until recently, I expected that all young people should endure the same as I did. I had become part of the problem. Unpaid internships often start out with simple intentions: organisations need a bit of light help around the office; workers at the start of their career need a decent reference and another employer to add to their CVs. Seemingly everyone wins. But, gradually unpaid roles for young people become part of the norm. Paying travel expenses starts to be considered a generous employment package. People who don’t have hefty reserves of cash, a part-time job that pays well, or a free roof over their heads are excluded from these opportunities. Those who can afford to work for free face feeling undervalued during the most critical formative years of their career. Giving their free and often highly skilled labour has been rebranded as a golden employment opportunity.

    Unpaid internships risk creating a situation in which a big chunk of the UK’s workforce greatly undervalues itself. It’s not good for people and it’s certainly not good for employers. While employees are often seen as a skilled commodity, studies show that when workers’ interests are truly valued the business thrives as a result.

    The onus to change this culture is not on the job seeker, it’s on the employer. Paying a fair amount for services that are valuable to organisations must be reinstated as the norm. Especially if that service is provided by a human being, whose happiness, productivity, creativity, and feelings and emotions affect the overall fortune of society and the economy.

    Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), where I now work, has in the past hired unpaid interns, but not any more. Members of the staff team rightly flagged it as an issue. We took steps to address it and SEUK has signed up to pay the Living Wage, making it official with the help of the.  Living Wage Foundation. All staff directly employed by SEUK receive the London Living Wage – calculated according to the basic cost of living in the capital. And we’re working on ensuring our contractors implement the same for all their staff.

    If they haven’t already, we’re encouraging our members to do the same. Social enterprises must lead by example and pay the living wage. In next year’s State of Social Enterprise research we will seek to establish how many social enterprises pay the minimum and living wage to help us understand the current picture. It may be that the sector is paying fairly, or it may be the case that there’s work to be done and progress to be made.

    When competing in the same markets as heavily capitalised private firms, it can be tough for social enterprises to always do the right thing. But we hope social enterprises and our members will. Social enterprises exist to put people and planet first – that includes their workforces. And if the sector doesn’t step up, it will be the first to be criticised, because people expect more. Let’s be part of the solution, not the problem.

    So, to our social enterprise friends: members, employers, bastions of equality in business, let’s make sure we do it. Let’s put our money where our mouth is, so that our talented people emerge well-rounded, happy, and ready to take the social enterprise movement to the next level.

    Find out more about the Living Wage


  • Fairer business is better business: how social enterprise can lead the way on fair pay

    Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) has recently taken a major step in demonstrating its commitment to a fairer, better society. They have joined an increasing number of employers in the UK that are publishing their pay ratio for the outside world to see at the free-to-access website, Pay Compare. SEUK has reported its ratio of highest paid-to-workforce median pay as 1:2.72. As the national body for social enterprise in the UK this sends a powerful signal that pay differentials matter and that transparency around pay is important.

    Fairly widespread evidence exists that social enterprises and other forms of more socially-oriented business tend to have lower, fairer pay ratios. And yet it is surprising that the these businesses do not seem to make more of this ethical edge, not only to promote their values, but also to generate business advantage in terms of attracting more customers and investors to their inherently fairer business model. We know from recent British Social Attitudes surveys that people do not like inequality (82% disliked it in 2013) or large pay gaps within companies and given the choice between regulating fairness through governmental tax and spend policies or via the workplace, they seem to favour the latter.

    It is worth noting here that pay inequality in the UK is driven by the private, for-profit, sector. Top-to-bottom pay ratios in the largest FTSE 100 companies are well in excess of 1:200 on average. For the public sector, it is around 1:15 on average and in the third sector it is more like 1:10. Together with employee-owned businesses, co-ops and mutuals, there is a chance here for social enterprise to shine a light on the unfair pay practices that abound within many (usually larger) private sector, shareholder-owned, companies and thereby attract increasing customer numbers and money towards fairer and more ethical businesses.

    In addition to reputational enhancement and opportunities to win more business, narrower pay dispersion has its own built-in advantages for business. An increasing amount of academic studies are now showing that wide pay differentials are harmful to workplace performance whereas narrower pay differences foster greater togetherness, creativity and productivity, points that were noted in the Hutton Review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector (2011, commissioned by the UK Treasury). Hutton went on to recommend that pay ratio reporting be extended across all sectors of the economy, not just the public sector – and a lead has recently been given in the third sector by the NCVO Inquiry into Charity Senior Executive Pay (April 2014) which recommended that larger charities report their pay ratios.

    So, I would like to suggest a three-point plan which could be used by the social enterprise movement to further establish its leading role in addressing pay and wider inequality in the UK:

    1. All social enterprises should publish prominently, on their websites and in their accounts, their pay ratios between the lowest and highest paid individuals, and between the median and highest paid.

    2. All social enterprises should also provide this ratio information to SEUK for it to collate and use at a national level to promote the ethical edge that the social enterprise sector has in terms of greater pay equality.

    3. Social enterprises should also follow the example of SEUK and provide their pay ratio information to the Pay Compare website to gain further exposure and to display, proudly and publicly, the Pay Compare Mark so they can show the rest of the world that they are leading by example.

    There is now overwhelming international evidence that countries that are more equal do better on a wide range of health and social problems than those that are more unequal. Social enterprise already makes a huge contribution to our economy and society. By taking a leading role on pay transparency and fairer pay practices social enterprise can benefit hugely – and it can also make a major contribution towards reducing economic inequality in the UK, so making it a better, healthier society with far fewer social problems. The ultimate prize is very great indeed.

    Bill Kerry is an unpaid non-executive director of Pay Compare –


  • Party Conferences- An Insider’s Account

    Social Enterprise UK’s public affairs manager, James Butler, reflects on the time we spent at this years party conferences:

    September is always a busy time in the political calendar. This year was no different, with the main political parties holding their annual conferences across three consecutive weeks in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.

    The Social Economy Alliance was out in force. At 13 separate fringe events we spoke up for our members and the social economy.

    Why bother?

    For the uninitiated, conference season is the only time of the year that a political party’s different groups and factions come together. They are a rare opportunity and useful for a number of reasons:

    • It’s important to make social enterprise’s presence felt. Party conferences are a unique marketplace of ideas, debates, opinions – they provide an insight into the policies that the parties are forming and are an opportunity to influence them. The Alliance team asked questions, challenged politicians and sparked debate at more than 30 fringe events.
    • Conferences are an information-gathering exercise. Direct contact with politicians and opinion formers is rare, so the casual conversations in corridors that you wouldn’t get anywhere else can provide useful inside information.
    • Unlikely alliances are often made. Conference is an opportunity to identify possible groups within the political parties which share common ground with us. It is often these groups that can help open the door to the party later down the line.

    Undoubtedly, conference is a critical moment to get our message in front of the country’s decision-makers.

    Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s events.

    Getting the sector noticed

    Getting our sector’s message heard above everyone else’s, particularly when up against other heavily-financed lobbyists, can be a difficult task. The Alliance’s fringe events helped, and meant we were a firm fixture in the conference programme.

    At packed events we debated with political brass and influencers about what the next government can do to support the social economy. Our main events attracted too many high-profile speakers to list, but included Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Rob Wilson MP, Lord Young, Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP among others.

    Such a mix of speakers shows that we have politicians’ attention and that the social economy really is bringing together the best ideas from the left, the right and the centre of politics.

    What got them thinking?

    There was strong endorsement of our newly published manifesto, but out of 25 recommendations, some really grabbed their attention.

    Liberal Democrat and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, showed enthusiasm for our ‘Social Entrepreneur Apprenticeships’, promising his team would explore the idea further. At an UnLtd event, Chi Onwurah, a shadow cabinet office minister, said the recommendation reflected Labour’s plans, too.

    Encouraging accountability and transparency in public services frequently came up, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Shadow Justice Secretary, calling for the extension of the freedom of information laws to cover private companies delivering public services. This is just one of the ways the Alliance proposes to clean up public service markets for the benefit of people and communities.

    We learnt that social value is popular among all parties, and they are vocal about their commitment to the Social Value Act. At our first Labour fringe event, Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said procuring for social value was a fantastic opportunity and one that must be seized.

    At our Tory event, Conservative advisor Lord Young predicted an increase in social enterprises delivering public services. He lay down the gauntlet for larger providers that dominate public service markets, saying he believes small providers are the future: “watch out Serco”.

    Beyond politics

    Conference isn’t just about the politicians. There are probably more lobbyists than party members attending. The most notable (and powerful) lobby is that of mainstream business. Fortunately this year they looked to social enterprise for guidance and inspiration. At an event with oil firms and airlines, they acknowledged that their reputations were poor, and that much can be learned from the way social enterprises do business. Politicians picked up on this.

    It’s working…

    The Alliance’s political face swap campaign worked. Our striking images raised a smile with delegates, and the level of awareness for the campaign and our manifesto among politicians, influencers and journalists was high.

    Despite the General Election being just around the corner, few of the parties unveiled new and exciting policies. They are largely still in “listening mode”. Now we need to run with the success of our time spent at conference and ensure it’s us they are listening to.

  • Scottish independence: Whatever the outcome, the trend for greater localism is evident across much of the world

    Two weeks ago I was in Scotland for the excellent CEiS Annual Social Enterprise Conference. Glasgow is rightly still basking in the glory of the Commonwealth Games but as you might expect, there was only one thing that people really wanted to talk to me about – and it wasn’t social enterprise. From taxi drivers to conference delegates and Big Issue vendors, everyone was talking about independence.

    I’m a localist, I wave the ‘local by default’ flag enthusiastically, and passionately believe in self-determination. I know only too well that many of the best ideas and the talents required for tackling our most stubborn social and economic problems exist within the very communities blighted by them.

    Because I believe in self-determination I’ve intentionally stayed well away from wading into the independence debate, particularly when in Scotland. It’s primarily a matter for them but with obvious implications for us all.

    Over the last couple of years I’ve seen more and more of my friends, mainly within the Scottish social economy become more confident and comfortable extolling the virtues of being out and proud as ‘yes’ voters. There’s a strong belief that has been emerging that independence will enable Scotland to become a fairer, more prosperous and more ecologically sustainable country. Whilst the ‘independence = fairer’ is not a belief I share, it’s certainly an ambition, and an aspiration I wholeheartedly support for Scotland, for Britain and for the world.

    Whatever the outcome, the trend for greater localism and self-determination is evident across much of the world, and long may it continue. In my view, the trend to towards greater localism is in part driven as a response to globalisation, where increasingly our lives, our opportunities – even many of our behaviours – are determined less and less by our own ‘free’ choices or even by our respective government’s policies. More and more of these controls, influences and effects are now controlled by opaque transnational companies over whom we have very little influence and almost no control.

    Greater localised political self-determination, whilst welcome, does nothing to assuage the increasing trend of economic power being siphoned from our communities, regions and nations, and placed in the hands of those unaccountable, almost invisible elites controlling our global markets and the transnational mega corps, which have so much more influence over our lives.

    Unless there’s a worldwide revolution that overthrows our globalised market economy (which I fear is unlikely), then localised political power will do little to challenge the rapid rise in inequality, wage stagnation, declining social mobility or climate chaos. What’s needed is much more localised, sustainable economic systems and social enterprise has to be part of that process however local, national or international we determine our political leaders should be.

    I hope to see you in Seoul next month for the Social Enterprise World Forum. Immerse yourselves in what’s happening across Asia and the world, see how far the movement now stretches and is progressing across whole continents. The Social Enterprise World Forum was incidentally born in Edinburgh seven years ago. Convened, developed and scaled by a great friend; an Irish man and a resident of Scotland, an internationally admired social enterprise leader who has his focus firmly on social justice in local neighbourhoods whilst walking and cooperating with nations near and far. We’ll be travelling together with a rag tag of great social enterprise leaders and supporters. It’s still not too late to join us, you’ll come back with a renewed sense of your place in the world whatever the outcome tomorrow.

    Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise UK

  • A matter of social justice in health

    By Mark Swift, CEO, Wellbeing Enterprises

    Following a seminar at the NHS Health and Care Innovation expo on Monday, Mark Swift, a speaker at the event, blogs on how the Social Value in Health Programme is aligning the VCSE sector with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

    Wellbeing Enterprises CIC was the first ‘health and wellbeing’ Community Interest Company to establish in the UK. Set up almost nine years ago we support individuals and communities to achieve better health and wellbeing – helping thousands and thousands of people across the UK to achieve just that.

    We are playing a lead role in the Delivering Social Value in Health Programme funded by the DoH, IVAR and SEUK – which aims to support the implementation of the Social Value Act across localities. Here in Halton we’ve been working alongside a broad array of stakeholders, including representatives from Halton CCG, Halton MBC, and the local voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector to align our social value endeavours with the swell of scientific evidence that describes how people become well and stay that way throughout life. With support from the Programme, we have welcomed international experts such as Dr Lynne Friedli to the borough to help us to define social value locally and ensure this is married up with the evidence underpinning what works to promote and protect wellbeing for all.

    What has emerged from the Programme so far is a consensus amongst stakeholders that efforts to improve economic, social and environmental wellbeing in Halton will rely substantially on our efforts to mobilise the assets of people and place, and to enable all people to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives. However alongside the need to mobilise local assets and resources, we also recognise the importance of aligning our efforts with those that are aiming to reduce inequalities and promote social justice. The English Review ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’ demonstrated how inequalities arise from the social inequalities in the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. Reducing inequalities will require action across all of the social determinants, by central and local government, the NHS, VCSE and private sector.

    Although we have quite some distance to travel as part of the Programme, what is apparent is the convergence of thought around utilising the Social Value Act as a lever to integrate all of our individual efforts to improve the quality of people’s lives and to reduce inequalities.

    This is a matter of fairness and social justice for the people of Halton.

    Find out more about the Social Value Health Programme.