Public sector workers reject social enterprise

 Protests in Suffolk over social enterprise plans

Chrisanthi Giotis, Social Enterprise Live


Suffolk County Council is tipped to become a battle ground today with unions picketing councillors as they debate radical plans to transfer services to social enterprises and the private sector.


The Conservative led council is set to approve a new ‘strategic direction’, which would see it divest services including libraries, roads, employment and children’s services to the private sector and social enterprises.


Unions are picketing as the move could results in around 4,000 job losses as the council would focus on awarding contracts to others rather than running services itself. It plans to achieve these changes by April 2012.


Leader of the opposition in Suffolk council, Lib Dem Kathy Pollard, told Social Enterprise she was not against the principle of transferring services, especially if they went to social enterprises as opposed to the private sector. However, she was very concerned about the time scale.


‘I think the time scale is too ambitious. They’re talking about having it all in place by September 2012 which is horrendously fast,’ said Pollard.


She is also concerned about the demoralisation of staff caused by limited consultation and fast time frame. She said this bodes ill for staff taking an active role in setting up new social enterprises to run the services.


‘Staff are frightened to death, morale is very low and that’s not the best way to get them to be entrepreneurial,’ said Pollard.


Her fellow Lib Dem councillor and well-known social entrepreneur Craig Dearden-Phillips said Pollard was right to be concerned about the ‘ambitious’ time frame, but the council needed to move fast because of the ‘impending financial armageddon’.


He foresaw limited opportunities for staff spin-outs with these needing to be on a larger scale to work for the needs of the council.


He also predicted that certain services like highway maintenance would be more likely to fall to private sector contractors while childcare and library services would more naturally go to social enterprises.


‘I think quite a lot of this will fall to the voluntary sector but there are natural limits because of scale and capacity,’ said Dearden-Phillips.


However, he emphasised that this was a great opportunity to ‘show the sector is serious’ and there was ‘no earthly reason’ why services such as libraries couldn’t be run by social enterprises.


‘It’s a change of mind-set with us now asking if the council uniquely qualified to do this service from a delivery, cost and accountability point of view and if the answer is not yes to all those questions the answer is divestment,’ he said.


Dearden-Phillips said he passionately believed in services moving away from the public sector and into social enterprises and this is why he has set up a new organisation, Stepping Out, to help councils and health authorities with this process. Because of conflict of interest concerns Stepping Out does not operate in Suffolk.


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Health workers vote to keep their services in the NHS
Sarah Judd, Evening Gazette


HEALTH professionals in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland have voted for a second time to keep services within the remit of the NHS, as opposed to transferring to a “social enterprise”.


More than 500 staff from Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland Community Services (MRCCS), an NHS organisation that provides health and social care to Teesside communities, voted in favour of their services being managed by a local NHS foundation trust.


By April next year, all community healthcare services across the country, such as care and treatment in community hospitals such as Carter Bequest and care and support to people in their homes or local clinic settings to enable them to stay out of hospital, have to be managed outside of current Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) like NHS Redcar and Cleveland and NHS Middlesbrough.


The two proposed options to manage these services were to create a social enterprise outside of the NHS, or be managed by a local Foundation Trust such as North Tees or South Tees.


About 700 of the 1,000 staff in MRCCS voted in the ballot on their preferred option.


A spokesman for MRCCS said: The staff of Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland Community Services (MRCCS) have voted in favour of being hosted by a local NHS foundation trust after a ballot showed 66% of those who voted preferred this option.


The result of the ballot will now be presented to the board of MRCCS who will make a recommendation to the boards of NHS Middlesbrough and NHS Redcar and Cleveland later this month.


Plans must then be approved by the North East Strategic Health Authority and the Department of Health. The hosting arrangement, if approved, would begin on April 1, 2011.


MRCCS was established in June 2007 to provide the NHS community services previously provided by Middlesbrough PCT and Redcar and Cleveland PCT.


Unison, the public sector trade union, welcomed the rejection of a social enterprise.


Wendy Larry, Unison local representative in MRCCS said: Despite what management promise we as staff recognise the dangers that this could bring in terms of no longer being employed by the NHS.


We would be open to the vagaries of the market and to the potential for diminution to our terms and conditions of employment.


In the NHS social enterprises can take a number of different structural forms, ranging from companies limited by guarantee to more co-operative/mutual models.


Social enterprises are expected to play a big part in the future of primary care service delivery.