Hope you enjoyed the recent bank holidays and the lovely weather, we now find ourselves in flaming June! How the years pass so quickly remains a mystery, but perhaps it’s partly down to the varied work and world we at SEUK are so privileged to be part of.  We’re very focussed and incredibly busy; working hard as your membership organisation to get your voices better heard and your work more visibly recognised by those in national and regional government and within the media.

First off, a quick mention for our annual Health and Social Care Conference – Fit for the Future in mid-July. Do join us, and our keynote speaker Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens – more details below.

Politics…. it’s quite a challenge to make sense of it all at the best of times. On one hand there’s never been more talk of inclusive economies, shared societies or community business models. There are roundtables, taskforces, new quangos and meetings with ministers – some of which are very senior indeed. And yet, as is always the way, the left hand doesn’t appear to know what the right hand is doing.

In transport we’re seeing some of the 30-year-old special concessions, provided to the community transport sector, at considerable risk. These concessions, available across the EU, enable thousands of services and routes to be delivered and are therefore just about viable. Such routes and services are threatened by proposed added regulations requiring volunteer drivers to be qualified and licensed as professional and commercial operators. This costs time and money and pushes many fragile (currently sustainable) services and possibly whole operators off a cliff.  At a time when existing public services have been severely contracted, community transport provides an ever-greater lifeline to isolated and vulnerable people. We’re working with the Community Transport Association to expose the consequences of what must be seen by someone, somewhere in Whitehall, as a very sensible idea indeed.

In another demonstration of disjointed policy development we see tens of thousands of nurses and clinical staff, those that are now delivering community services and primary care working in social enterprises, being excluded from the much-heralded pay deal the health secretary has offered to NHS staff.

These are nurses, health visitors and podiatrists that deliver NHS services, wear NHS uniforms, have NHS email addresses, and who deliver critical community services -  stemming the flow of people that would otherwise swell the queues of our already full-to-the brim hospitals.  Community and staff owned models of community service delivery began to emerge under New Labour but were endorsed and catalysed further by the Coalition and Cameron governments. In just the last few weeks, DCMS minster Tracey Crouch has announced another £1m to support more mutuals in public services, yet under the current pay deal the budget for pay increases will only flow to those directly employed by the NHS. How government can attempt to encourage others to take flight from public sector employment, yet so overtly discriminate against them is yet another paradox emerging from a disjointed administration.

We’ve seen this before within community-owned renewable energy enterprises; their potential for community benefit limited by policy decisions to reduce feed in tariffs and close Social Investment Tax Relief for such initiatives. Staff and communities are welcome to take back control, but don’t expect actual help from government in doing so.

There is a disappointing and increasing gulf between rhetoric and reality. The new and widely anticipated 10-year civil society strategy is no doubt creating hope for some. Yet this approach to civil society increasingly looks like the equivalent to a FTSE 100’s CSR policy from the 1980’s –  an uncomfortable annexe to business as usual.  Anyone who assumes the urgent solutions we need will emerge from the within the civil society strategy are perhaps just as likely to believe that current levels of corporate social responsibility will stem the tide of environmental degradation and safeguard the planet for future generations.   

An inclusive economy, a shared society, once again seems like a weekend hobby of government, rather than an urgent priority to curate an economy that works for all - using all the levers across government to ensure delivery of a pro-social, fair, more equitable and balanced economy.

It’s very much a case of one step forwards, two steps back. We’re working hard to ensure that you have the best informed, most effective representation we can muster. I just hope that government begins to align itself to support the PM’s idea of a shared society and an inclusive economy.

As Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Thankfully, even if government cannot escape the old ways of thinking, we know that you can, so thanks from the team for being such incredible examples of how to build the new economy.

Let’s end with some positive news. In the past month we have seen members ‘Campaign Collective’ named Consultancy of the Year at the Better Society Awards where companies are recognised for helping to create a better, more equal, ethical and sustainable world for all; Bevan Healthcare CIC entertained the CQC’s chief inspector of general practice Professor Steve Field to see how and why they are so ‘Outstanding’; and one of our newest members Hey Girls! held a brunch cocktail experience with a difference in central London – one that promised to do good with every Bloody Mary poured… the classic cocktail was served up all day long - but with a catch, it could only be ‘bought’ in exchange for sanitary protection!

As ever thanks for the injection of hope and optimism, at times like these, we really do need it. 

Peter Holbrook,

Chief Executive, Social Enterprise UK