Some services, such as childcare, are mostly undertaken by independent providers. Photograph: Photofusion Picture Library / Al/Alamy
So often the story of social enterprise seems inextricably linked to public sector reform, and while there is actually so much more to the growing world of ethical business, what is happening in the arena of public service is undoubtedly big stuff.
Today is Social Enterprise Day and will be celebrated all over the world as a day that matters. For our part Social Enterprise London is launching Spin Out and Deliver here at the Guardian which is our nattily entitled latest thought piece on what is actually happening to those who are leaving direct employment in public services and becoming independent service providers. We started on this journey 15 years ago with our first guides on services such as childcare which we thought could be done more efficiently by those outside the public sector whether they started there or not. Today we learn that leadership is the key, that identifying and supporting those able to inspire and drive the project is the single most significant contributor to success.
To give you some idea of the scale of change, as an example, Social Enterprise London is working with four local authorities across the political spectrum, that between them plan to spin out 22 services. I would take this as evidence that services will be done differently in future, the only arguments left to have are, should services be delivered by social or shareholder-driven value enterprises? And, how can we make sure our services continue to improve in terms of their social impact? At Social Enterprise London we are part of the Transition Institute, an information platform for reform in public services that promotes social value focused delivery. At the institute the mantra is transform not just transfer. We showcase trailblazers who have made it work and help each and every spin-out to learn from those that went before. Some of these new service providers you might recognise, likeLEYF, the market leading early years foundation, and some like Circle Partnership, the health-based company you may not. The report tells us that there is still a great deal of confusion about models and if we are to help these new entities to be sustainable that is a worry.
One of the key things prospective spin-outs told us was their frustration at the lack of specialist support. Even when they found organisations like Social Enterprise London they had no budget to pay for the work they needed doing, and the agencies that could have assisted them like Risein the south-west had experienced 100% funding cuts. This is a growing pressure point. The economic crisis has created a demand for specialist advice and eliminated the public funding to support the propagation of that expertise. It is too easy to say that if that advice is any good the market should pay for it as the market really means fledgling spin outs and growing numbers of start-ups with no budget.