Best bits: the open public services white paper

Best bits: the open public services white paper

Gines Haro Pastor, Guardian Professional


A round up of our experts’ advice on what the white paper means for social enterprises


Ceri Jones – head of policy and research, Social Enterprise Coalition


Regulation must support diversity of provision: There has never been a public service market where simply opening up markets has resulted in diversity of provision. Consider, for example, the waste sector, work programme or adult residential care – social enterprises account for a tiny fraction of these markets. Areas where there is a mixed provision – primary care, leisure, housing – is usually because there is some form of policy intervention to support it.


Diversity – not scale – is essential: If there was ever the need for place-based rather than siloed public service-based commissioning, it is in rural areas. The best examples of social enterprises providing public services in rural areas is where they combine the delivery of a range of services that the community have identified as essential: community transport, shops, post office services, basic social care and so on. Looking at diversity rather than scale in the traditional way we think of it.


Finding forward-thinking commissioners is challenging: There are not many commissioners able to integrate budgets and social impact. This is where in the public services white paper greater power to "neighbourhood councils (parish, town and community councils)" could be interesting. But as with most things in the white paper, there is insufficient detail to know what kind of powers and budgets we’re looking at.


Dom Potter – co-founder, Transition Institute


The white paper omitted some key issues to enable social enterprises to deliver public services: The government need to consider how to leverage sufficient social finance into public service delivery, how to ensure multiple multi-stakeholder governance models are encouraged and how to introduce effective mechanisms for retaining assets in public/common/shared ownership.


The government needs to ensure commissioners are innovative: There are some promising suggestions in the white paper, especially the focus on outcomes and value rather than just cost. But the real work comes in supporting and cajoling commissioners to look at doing things in a different way in a harsh fiscal climate. Without this change, a lot of the white paper will not happen.


The scale of the public services overhaul needs more consideration: There is a great deal of work to be done to support the emerging spin outs from the public sector and the potential spin in social enterprises and charities, so they can deliver not just different public services, but better public services. It is not just about the transfer of services from public to social sector. It is about the transformation of public services into more efficient, more effective services for individuals, neighbourhoods and communities.


This issue isn’t highlighted enough in the white paper and its agenda.


Sam Dowling – policy manager, Social Investment Business


Decentralisation and accountability need to embrace and enable diversity: Many organisations aren’t yet in a position to compete directly with private and public organisations, particularly those with a track record of delivering contracts with the available finance to hit the ground running. To truly expand the pool of providers, there needs to be a recognition that charities and social enterprises embarking on contractual social care provision or education and training programmes need to be considered against different criteria to get through the door. Similarly, charities with track record in child protection or social care, patient safety or community care should be given the opportunity to share and scale-up their expertise.


Improve social impact measurement to prove value to commissioners: At the moment there are insufficient ways for commissioners to assess the added value that social enterprises bring to contracts. It’s clear that the government is keen to have robust measurement systems in place around social and financial value. We welcome this (up to a point) and would encourage social enterprise and civil society organisations to look at how they monitor and measure the effects of their activities on the groups and communities they serve.


Be realistic: The twin goals of increased community and citizen engagement and sustainable civil society organisations can only be achieved if charities and social enterprises are realistic about what they can deliver. They should be willing to acknowledge where they might need help to improve their management and information systems so they can effectively achieve the scale needed (alone or in partnership with others) to deliver public services in a sustained and sustainable way.


Charisma is essential: Enabling community groups and hubs to lead the way in shaping and transforming services and the spaces in which they operate is the right starting point. But the biggest challenge is taking the charismatic leadership at a community level that drives such transformative activity and finding a way of replicating or growing it in areas where there is a need for such direction and energy.


Asheem Singh – director of strategy and policy, Impetus Trust


Increase the awareness of the importance of diversity: The social sector needs to articulate the case very clearly as to why diversity of provision is important, how we will judge an acceptable level of diversity of provision and what will happen if those standards are not met. It sounds like a lot of non-mission focused work but until the government is aware of what the sector expects from them, the typical schema of good intentions without much on implementation will persist.


There is a huge implementation gap: It’s not just commissioners that are the problem. The white paper doesn’t clarify how to get a critical mass of organisations or spin outs ready to expand to take on the government contracts. We need to invest in the change management process early, to get people on board with the vision and values of the new organisation.


Social enterprises need a strong financial support system: Finance isn’t a problem if you have a good support structure with mentors and a board with good business experience. However, many social enterprises are not in this position – there is a significant gap between the social enterprises that are capable of efficiently taking on finance and the amount of investment capital available. That manifests itself in the social enterprise deal flow – there is quite a bit of grant financing at the bottom, lots of investment capital at the top with no one to take it up, and nothing at the strategic portion in the middle.


Rob Greenland – co-director, Social Business Brokers


Collaborate: Look at more joint ventures with other partners – including private sector partners. Make sure, however, that such ventures do not just use social enterprises as ‘bid candy’ (as some have suggested has happened in the past). Social enterprises must be clear on what they contribute and what they need from their partners.


David Floyd – managing director, Social Spider


There could be a role for public service co-operatives: Co-operatives tend to have been successful either where workers can see clearly how the structures operate in their interests (offering greater control over what they’re doing and a good chance of sustainable employment), or, as with social care co-operatives in Italy, where their legal structure gives preferential status for access to local government contracts. The government might consider measures that have a similar effect.


Running public services may entail changing the type of organisation a social enterprise is: If social enterprises – and social entrepreneurs – want to enter into the new public service markets places, they should consider the types of organisations they’ll need to become to compete. They will have to look at the options for working in partnership with private sector organisations and, for some enterprises, the change in climate could mean that they have to move away from working with public sector.


Robert Ashton – author, founder of the Norfolk Community Foundation and a director of Ethecol


Perhaps hybrid organisations are the future: The future is not for services to be delivered by either corporate or social enterprise organisations, but be new organisations that are formed from both. Many of the services facing closure are staffed by people eager to carry on so this could be an excellent way of harnessing existing skills and enthusiasm. We could create new organisations that are a hybrid of all three sectors. As the white paper says; "We do not have the ideological presumption that only one sector should run services."