The past week has seen numerous significant political events including elections across Great Britain, a Queen’s Speech outlining the Government’s policy agenda for the coming year and a reshuffle of Labour’s top team. It can be hard to keep on top of everything, so this blog gives a quick analysis of what it all means for social enterprise and what may happen next.
Local elections – a tale of two electorates?
The local election results in England were more complicated than they first appeared. The Conservatives continued to win council seats and mayors in the ‘Red Wall’, with their town and shire electoral coalition holding up well. But Labour also solidified its position in England’s cities, including London.
For social enterprises, the national picture looks likely to be dominated by the Conservatives for some years to come. Given that the UK has a very centralised system of taxation and spending, this means that Conservatives will continue to shape the overall direction of travel. The focus on levelling up may provide opportunities for social enterprises, but we need to make the case for why social enterprises are a better route to economic and social renewal. Infrastructure investment is one thing, but it will not transform the country without a change to how business and employment works in our communities. The appointment of a new Levelling Up Adviser, Neil O’Brien and a White Paper later this year, will give more detail on where this agenda is heading and a chance to influence.
At a local level, there is actually a consensus across both parties around “getting stuff done”. Conservatives and Labour politicians that have been successful are generally those that a reputation for standing up for their areas and delivering on local priorities. Social enterprises have an excellent track record on the ground, and now is a good time for social enterprises to reach out to show themselves as reliable and effective partners to deliver local change.
The Queen’s Speech – four key bills
There were four significant bills for our sector in the Queen’s Speech. The NHS Bill which has been discussed for two years will finally come forward in this parliamentary session. The Bill will shape the future of health service delivery for the next decade through the creation of a more integrated system, with new “Integrated Care Systems” (ICSs) coming to the fore to replace the strategic role that had previously been held by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). Social enterprises deliver over £1bn worth of health contracts, so this Bill is of vital importance and we will work with members to make sure that there is a strategic role for social enterprises and to ensure that the ICSs are transparent and accountable for improving the lives of patients and residents in local communities.
The Procurement and Subsidy (i.e. State Aid) Bills are also important, as they will directly impact over £300bn of procurement spend and hundreds of billions of government grants/tax reliefs per annum. The good news is that years of campaigning by social enterprises has put social value at the heart of the procurement system and the new state aid regime is likely to be more flexible than the EU rules that proceeded it, which could encourage greater partnership working with social enterprises.
The ‘surprise’ Bill was the Dormant Assets Bill which will reform how £880m of unused bank accounts, insurance policies and other assets will be distributed. It appears the Government wants to use this money in a wider variety of areas rather than stick to a set of two or three areas, such as social investment, as it had done previously. Whilst more flexibility could be useful for the sector, we need to ensure that these assets are used to support the development of social enterprises as a source of patient investment, rather than being wasted on small, piecemeal interventions.
A new economic direction for Labour?
The local election results prompted a Labour reshuffle where the big change was the shifting of Anneliese Dodds from Shadow Chancellor to be replaced by Rachel Reeves. Dodds has been a supporter of social enterprise and we wish her well in her new role as chair of Labour’s Policy Review. A new Shadow Business Minister will also need to be appointed as Lucy Powell has been moved to Housing – although Ed Miliband, another supporter of social enterprises has remained as Shadow Business Secretary.
It is hard to predict what the appointment of Reeves means for Labour at present, but it seems likely that Labour will focus less on bolder reforms to the economy and more on taking the fight to the Conservatives on core parts of their levelling up agenda. That being said, social enterprises have wide support amongst the Labour Party and the sector could play a big role in their economic agenda in the years ahead.