Minister pledges bigger role for social enterprises

Minister pledges bigger role for social enterprises
Patrick Butler
The Guardian

The communities secretary, Hazel Blears, today promised to help make social enterprise central to public service delivery in housing, regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.

In what will be seen as an acknowledgement of growing frustration in the sector that social businesses were not getting a fair share of public service contracts, Blears promised to help remove barriers that hindered the development of social enterprise.

She announced the creation of a social enterprise unit in the department of communities and local government, with the aim of ‘making sure that community enterprise runs right through the department’s DNA’.

She also promised to improve access to financial support for community enterprises – though she offered no detail – and said she would encourage private businesses to provide stronger links with community groups.

Privately many in the social enterprise movement are concerned that there is a widening gap between ministerial rhetoric bout the centrality of social business in public services and the reality where they are struggling to win delivery contracts.

Blears paid tribute to social entrepreneurs as ‘a powerful force for change’, telling delegates at the Social Enterprise Coalition annual conference in Liverpool that ‘you embody my kind of politics’.

She added: ‘Not Whitehall trying to guess what people’s problems are and giving them a solution, but local people coming together, finding their own solutions, having a real say over the future of the places where they live.’

Campbell Robb, director general of the Office of the Third Sector, told delegates there was real common ground between government and social enterprises in areas like public service delivery, social justice, environment issues and ethical behaviour.

Claire Dove, the chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition, said : As a country, we need to use the most powerful tool – the market place – to tackle social and environment issues.’