Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Conservative manifesto

In the spirit of yesterday's brief look at the Labour manifesto, here's a look at the Conservatives' new document. Again, I'm not going to plough through all the detail that the Coalition has pulled out, or has already been discussed over several preceding weeks.

Much of the relevant stuff for social entrepreneurs was announced in the Big Society launch the previous week, with a Big Society Bank (also utilising money from unclaimed assets) providing finance to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and charities; and also providing funding to intermediary bodies with a "track record of supporting and growing social enterprises". There's also the national citizens service, as well documented elsewhere, and the training up of independent community organisers to establish neighbourhood groups. It will be interesting to see where community organiser ends and early-stage social entrepreneur begins, I think…or when neighbourhood groups formalise their work and begin to trade or win contracts.

There is some interesting back to employment stuff, including a community learning fund to help people restart their careers, and "Work For Yourself" which gives access to mentoring + loans. Like Labour, employee-led and owned co-ops to deliver public services feature, as does the opportunity for parents to start new schools (still a very emerging space, this one). An intriguing one, and one that could be really interesting (given so many of the barriers are about culture, mindset and understanding) is recognising participation in social action in civil servants' appraisals.

Not much revelation then, but reading both these party documents, and acknowledging that government is only part of the social entrepreneurship world and space (and that there's much that needs detail and grounding), one has to stand back and recognise how much more recognition and understanding there is across the political spectrum of what this movement can contribute.

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2 thoughts on “Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Conservative manifesto

  1. “one has to stand back and recognise how much more recognition and understanding there is across the political spectrum of what this movement can contribute.”
    That’s definitely one take on it. Another is that politicians’ growing belief in the movement is more based on their desire for it to solve some of their biggest problems rather than on a coherent understanding of how it might actually do so. Maybe the truth’s somewhere in the middle.
    While I see many possibilities for it working well and can see instances where my organisation could get involved in this kind of work, I’m highly dubious about whether a large percentage of public sector workers will want to spin out their services into social enterprises if the schemes remain genuinely voluntary.
    Of course, if and when the option becomes ‘social enterprise or dole queue’ they may become more amenable but the movement possibly needs to consider the extent to which it wants to participate in that kind of process.

  2. Yes, I don’t necessarily disagree with that David. And Rod Schwartz makes a similar point over on his blog today as well. For me, the point I was trying to make was that if you compared these manifestos to the ones thirteen years ago (or further back), then I do think it’s good that there is recognition in here. I think any organisation that is looking to the public sector to sustain it solely at present is a short-sighted one, and the private sector has a big role to play as well. But in partnerships + contracts with both sectors, it is about the social entrepreneurs deciding when to play and when not to: what opportunities are aligned with their mission and which are others’ agendas. Strong, confident, skilled social entrepreneurs + teams can make those kind of judgements in the public sector market and private sector market alike (and, indeed, in the ‘third sector market’ such as there is).
    On motivations, it’s very hard to know. I think your call on it being somewhere in between is fairly accurate: I’ve long called for more reality, less rhetoric so the social enterprise movement doesn’t overpromise + retains credibility, so that it’s not viewed as a panacea. But we also believe in its ability to solve some of those problems, don’t we? And we have a role to ensure it is coherently understood + credibly delivered, regardless of sector.
    I have to say, I’m with you on the scepticism about spin-outs. Not that it’s not a viable option at times in some areas, but I think the motivation has to come from the individual or group of individuals, not a top-down insistence: where right-to-request has worked, it’s because of the (small numbers of) entrepreneurial individuals and groups within the public sector who drove and led the change. And they’ve needed (and need) support and advice and networking through that process. Where it is motivated by top-down commissioning by structure or, as was said at a recent Ministry of Justice conference, to “access grants” or, indeed, suggested to “enforced career changers”, it’s not going to work.