The future of public services

Social enterprises play an essential role in the delivery of high quality, best value public services. Find out why social enterprises are the future of public services

From the NHS to schools, social care to waste collection, public services are at the heart of all our lives and our communities. The UK’s public services are a powerful social enabler and economic force. The provision of public services affects all citizens and employs millions of people. The cost of providing them sees billions of pounds move round the UK economy.


Every day, thousands of social enterprises are delivering billions of pounds of high-quality public services to millions of people across every community in the UK. Social enterprises run bus routes and nurseries, they manage waste and social housing. They deliver health care and social care, run leisure centres and sports facilities. All over the UK social enterprises are making a difference to people’s lives.


These social enterprises can sometimes offer more innovative, flexible and entrepreneurial alternatives to in-house public sector delivery models. But crucially, profits are reinvested in communities, not diverted to wealthy investors, private equity firms or off-shore tax havens.



The state and its role in responsible procurement

Government bodies at a local and national level have outsourced public services, often purchasing them from private companies. Our research has highlighted the real risks of the development of a ‘shadow state’ where a small number of companies can build up large and complex stakes in public service markets, leading to them being potentially able to wield disproportionate control while being held to limited accountability and transparency.


Too often, policy-makers and politicians think and talk about public services as if there were only two alternative models – public or private, nationalised or privatised.


Beauchamp Centre 2017-33 Community Nurse Matron Livewell Southwest social enterprise uk

Social enterprises delivering health and social care

Like all public services, NHS and social care are delivered by a range of organisations. GPs are often privately owned, hospitals often take a ‘trust’ model and social care provision can sometimes be owned by private equity firms.


Social enterprises are a valued and vital part of the NHS family, running community care services, GP practices, out of hours services, mental health support, drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centres and services for those with learning disabilities. A third of community health care services being delivered by social enterprises. Many social enterprises emerged from Primary Care Trusts and other parts of the public sector – they deliver community health, mental health, public health and social care services worth almost a billion pounds per year. Some also identify themselves as spin-out mutuals, and some are employee-owned businesses. Here are two examples of social enterprises transforming the delivery of healthcare.

Find out more about social enterprise delivering healthcare services in this film

Images of 'day in the life' at Sirona's Clevedon Hospital.

These social enterprises are pioneering innovative ways of integrating health and social care through the flexibility to build services around the needs of patients. They are leading the way in placing staff and patients at the heart of decision making. You can read more in our guide, produced with the NHS Confederation – Social enterprises: part of the NHS family.


We work in a number of ways to support social enterprises in delivering quality health and social care services. These include programmes to develop cross-sector partnerships, and our Health and Social Care Network – regular meetings and supportive environment for peers to discuss challenges and share their learning around commissioning, governance, recruitment, finance and more. We have delivered a programme for the Department of Health looking at how CCGs can implement the Social Value Act. We offer training and webinars, we influence policy through our role on the Provider Voice Forum with senior Department of Health civil servants and deliver research, such as The Social Value Difference in Health and Care Commissioning or The 12 Steps to Embedding Social Value Priorities.

Research published in 2023 from the University of Birmingham and Georgia State University showed how CIC social enterprises delivering social care services have the highest overall quality ratings when compared with non-profits, for-profits and government run providers.


Reasons cited as to why this might be the case include greater innovation and staff engagement.


You can find out more about the key findings in this short film and policy briefing.

Recycling Lives Building Markets Social Enterprise UK

The Social Value Act

Social Enterprise UK was instrumental in the establishment of the Social Value Act in and has helped drive its implementation. The Act places an obligation on public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area they operate in. The Act is having a transformative impact on the commissioning landscape.


The Social Value Act requires public bodies in England and in some parts of Wales to consider choosing providers based on the social value created in an area and not on cost alone. The legislation asks that public bodies consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.

Chris White Social Value 2032 social enterprise uk

Social Value 2032

We have provided advice on the implementation of the Act to a wide range of public bodies including the Department for Health and Social Care and Oxford City Council. Our team can provide tailored, practical support, including training sessions, action-learning sets and expert speakers for events.


Building on this work, on the tenth anniversary of the Act in March 2022, we launched our Social Value 2032 programme, This aims to work with stakeholders from across the public, private and third sectors to embed social value across all public sector procurement.