Government should not support umbrella groups, says Maude

Government should not support umbrella groups, says Maude
Gemma Hampson, Social Enterprise Magazine

Big Society could be set back by the scrapping or scaling back of social enterprise support organisations, claims the boss of the Social Enterprise Coalition (SEC).

The stark warning from SEC CEO Peter Holbrook was made at a Conservative conference fringe event on Sunday, organised by Demos in partnership with SEC.

It was in response to Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude saying government cash should go direct to community organisations, not to ‘umbrella groups’.

The minister made the statement in answer to a question from Social Enterprise about how Big Society would support social enterprises when the Office of Civil Society scales back its strategic partners from 40 to just 15.

The cuts mean the major social enterprise supporters, including SEC, the Development Trusts Association, Social Firms UK and the School for Social Entrepreneurs (with UnLtd), could lose thousands of pounds of funding, putting jobs and support programmes at risk. SEC alone receives £534,000.

Maude said: ‘The old Office of the Third Sector had 48 [sic] or something strategic partners and, to be honest, we want the support to go to the organisations doing the work, not the umbrella organisations.

‘I know SEC is great to the extent that there is value in it. That should be demand led by the sector, not from government.’

However, Maude did not rule out that cash could be available from other government sources.

‘There will be a different way of doing things,’ he said.

Holbrook said the lack of support for organisations like SEC was ‘worrying’.

‘There needs to be the right support for social businesses to establish themselves,’ he said.

‘Communities, when they start out, need support mechanisms. The idea that people are just expected to start something without these mechanisms is really worrying. It could set the Big Society movement back.’

Maude, who could only attend 45 minutes of the one and half hour event, added that Big Society was about people ‘doing it for themselves’ and support would be available for them. But he admitted it would be ‘chaotic’.

‘It will not be orderly. It will not conform to any plan that any one can draw up. But we will be supporting spin outs and helping public sector workers create co-ops and mutuals to deliver public services,’ he said.

But the Big Society obsession with co-ops and mutuals was another concern of Holbrook’s, who again called for a wider consideration of business structures.

Maude was also joined by Fay Selvan of the Big Life Group on the panel, chaired by Guardian and Sunday Times columnist Jenni Russell.

The end of the fringe meeting was met with a public spending cut protest, which saw unions and other protestors marching outside all of the main conference venues (pictured). The  protest included heated shouting from Unite and Unison, two of the biggest protestors of social enterprises taking over public services.

More stories at