Blogs

  • 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:https://twitter.com/CommonCapitaI

  • 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: http://oixuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/WCC-2-white-paper-FINAL.pdf

    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 : david@mydex.org or visit : mydex.org

  • 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 – www.paycompare.org.uk

     

  • 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.

  • Do you pay the living wage?

    Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive SEUK

    A report out earlier this week from the Living Wage Commission shows that an increase in living costs and stagnating wages are creating a squeeze on the five million people in the UK who are in low paid employment. The findings are a sobering read: 6.7m of the 13m people in poverty in the UK are in a family where someone works, and more than 5m workers in the UK – equal to 21% of the workforce – are paid below a living wage – an increase of 9% over the last year.

    For lots of people, the minimum wage simply doesn’t cover the bare necessities. The cost of living crisis is being felt by many as housing, utility bills, transport prices all continue to creep up. The Commission is calling on employers that can pay a living wage to do so. We’ve recently been accredited as a living wage employer at Social Enterprise UK and are pleased to be in a position where we can. But we are only too aware of how difficult it can be for smaller businesses, social enterprises and charities, and those in organisations managing shrinking budgets.

    We would encourage our members who are paying the living wage – like The Phone Coop – to apply in order to be recognised. If you’ve already been accredited please let us know on twitter using our handle @SocialEnt_UK and the hashtag #LivingWage – we’re interested to know of those of you who do and will spread the word.

    We’ve been taking some steps to get our house in order and all of the team at SEUK have been making a real effort to Buy Social at every opportunity. With a few exceptions our supply chain is made up entirely of social enterprises and we were delighted to work with so many social enterprise suppliers at last year’s Social Enterprise Awards. Next on our to-do-list is to measure and report on our own social impact. As a membership organisation and not on the front line, we’ve been told (very nicely) that it’s not going to be easy, but we think it’s important and are about to start working on it. We’ll be publishing the report in the summer.

  • ‘Social value’ must be a priority for those who spend public money

    Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive SEUK

    It’s a year since the Social Value Act came into force. The act places a duty on councils, the NHS and other public bodies in England and Wales to consider how they might improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing – the “social value” – of a relevant area when they buy and commission goods and services. During the year, I’ve raised many eyebrows with my belief that the act has made commissioning and procurement staff the new rock’n'roll gods of public service. But I am deadly serious. It is ground-breaking legislation. If properly implemented, it can unleash billions of pounds’ worth of public spending power to benefit whole communities.

    It marks a shift in how value is assessed in public service markets. Traditionally, the immediate financial cost of services has been the focus – added social cost or benefit has been factored out. Many argue this has led to a perverse situation, where the lowest bidders win contracts and they are often companies that degrade the quality of services and, in some cases, fuel further social problems. The crumbling care markets are a prime example. Private firms plunge workers into poverty and spread costs to other parts of the public purse, which must foot the bill with in-work benefits just to sustain the workforce.

    The political will that ensured cross-party backing for the legislation arose in the midst of repeated scandals where large outsourcing firms failed at delivery on a grand scale, but still received giant sums of public money. Naturally, the act was greeted cautiously by some. Within local government, many were wary of one more thing to do. And the fact that it came with few guidelines, has left some people wondering what to do with it.

    But there are many public bodies – often local authorities – that have capitalised on its design to give them freedom to spend in socially shrewd ways.

    In Durham, for example, council leaders have launched a Social Value Task Force. They are designing contracted council services to include mechanisms for tackling youth unemployment – a chronic problem in the area. Others, such as Liverpool city council, have included criteria such as payment of the living wage as a basic requirement for any organisation and its suppliers that are bidding to run a council service, in order to tackle inequalities.

    In a recent survey carried out by Social Enterprise UK, 81% of commissioners had taken steps to identify social value criteria and more than 75% said their organisation has issued tenders that include social value criteria. Given that the act is still in its infancy, these are encouraging signs, even allowing for the fact that the sample was a self-selecting group who are probably more enthusiastic champions of the act than is the norm.

    But smaller providers – particularly charities and social enterprises – still struggle to access and win contracts even though they can bring social value. Our survey identified a lack of pre-procurement collaboration between commissioners and providers. The public bodies that report most success with the act work with their local community sector to identify needs and resources, and how contracts can tackle and take advantage of these. Yet our survey found that fewer than one in five community organisations had been involved in a consultation.

    The success of the act will largely rely on a shift in attitude by the commissioners yet to embrace it. So what should those commissioners be doing?

    They should outline clear social value priorities that match their core objectives, in collaboration with local communities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations.

    Failure to change the status quo is a real and growing risk. In the current climate, commissioners who don’t realise the savings and local growth that a genuine social value approach to commissioning services creates are running a huge risk.

    Originally printed in the Guardian 4th February 2014

    For more information and resources about the Social Value Act click here