Following the coalition government's decision to cut spending and support social enterprise, I have been talking to a lot of public sector leaders lately. Those that have contacted me want to discuss how social enterprise can help them turn a fiscal crisis into opportunity by building new services that maximise community engagement.
What they don't want to talk about is how the existing third sector or community sector or "Big Society" family, however you prefer to term us, can deliver more public sector contracts.
I'm thrilled that so many are now seeing the potential of the employee, community ownership, mutual and cooperative models encompassed in the term social enterprise, to deliver a whole new world of public services.
It is clear to me that social enterprise is about to get a great deal bigger with more public servants than ever joining in. It is equally clear, that the opportunities for existing social enterprises, particularly those operating at the voluntary sector end are grim.
If you look at this from the point of view of the harassed local authority leader or chief executive, they have upwards of 25% to take off their bottom line, and they have to cut to do it. For them the only option is to enable staff to create workable business models that deliver existing services more cost effectively. What is not helpful are third parties that want to be alternative providers, although there are opportunities for proven social enterprises that offer jobs for existing staff, cost savings and genuine community engagement.
As a strategic body the challenge for us is to work with local authorities, public health bodies and central government to create this new generation of deliverers where former workers can increase their job satisfaction.
In my discussions it is clear that it is the public service ethic that is driving people's interest in social enterprise as well as the fiscal crisis. Workers want more creative control over service delivery and they have ideas about building enhanced relationships with service users. In some ways it's far more appropriate to think of this as in-sourcing, as opposed to out-sourcing, and remember that this only works if it is approached positively and creatively.
Social Enterprise London has published Transitions, an introductory guide for public sector staff anywhere, on how they can go about establishing a social enterprise out of their existing service, with their existing colleagues. We have produced it in collaboration with London Councils, Capital Ambition and leading social enterprise leisure trust, GLL.
The guide is for local authorities who want to support staff to consider whether social enterprise might be right for any services which could include parks, children's nurseries, transport, libraries and back office functions like finance and IT. It is an exciting process and one that I hope inspires new recruits to the idea.
My only sorrow is that it is definitely preaching to the unconverted and there is little here for the choir.