Milburn hails role of social enterprise
Social enterprises should have a greatly increased role in providing public services under a third-term Labour government, Alan Milburn, the party’s election co-ordinator, said today.
‘Social enterprise can help us deliver the opportunity society we seek,’ said Mr Milburn, who is in charge of supervising Labour party policy formulation.
The sector includes around 5,000 companies in the UK and has the potential to become a key partner with Government in modernising Britain and to play as large a part in public service delivery as the state or private companies, he said.
Noting the success of such companies, he offered social enterprise as an alternative to the ‘automatic assumption’ in British politics that the alternative was simply between the public and private sectors, and referred to the opportunities social enterprise provide for the involvement of ordinary members of the public: ‘social enterprise opens the door to local ownership by local people of local services.’
‘On the centre-left, our default assumption has too often been that once the commanding heights of the state have been seized, through periodic elections, progressive change would automatically follow. Instead all too often people are left confused and disempowered.’
Mr Milburn said that until now social enterprises had been held back when competing with the private sector for public service contracts. ‘Too often contracts are tentative and short-term. Decision-making is too slow. Goalposts can be moved at the very last moment. This is a vicious cycle that limits the sector’s ability to deliver.’
He added that new institutions, not just attitudes, are needed to encourage social enterprise, emphasising the importance of Community Interest Companies (CICs), enacted last year by Parliament, are so important.
‘They are designed specifically for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good with a community interest test to ensure that the business is genuinely beneficial to the public they serve. Like, the alternative model of a strengthened industrial and provident society (IPS), CICs are about enabling control to be passed beyond a narrow group of shareholders to a wider stake-holding community.’
‘There is a common principle here: public services that are funded and used by the public should be open not just to greater individual choice, but to greater public involvement.’
‘Progress in the future depends on sharing responsibility with citizens. That means services can no longer be run from behind closed doors. Satisfaction levels with policing in the North West, for example, rose only after services in this region began to elicit public views on how performance could be improved.’
‘I believe we are ready to move out of an era of public consultation and one of involvement, where local people get more than just a chance to have a say. They get the chance to decide.’
Jonathan Bland, Chief of the Social Enterprise Coalition said Mr Milburn’s vision of social enterprise as integral to public service delivery as either the public or private sectors was a significant step forward.
‘We now challenge the current Government to turn words into action and make these commitments a reality.’
[FILE2 soc_ent_partner_reform_milburn.doc, ‘Social Enterprise – a Partner in Reform’ (Full speech, word document)]