Ready, aim, fire – UK Parliament hits social enterprise target

The Houses of Parliament has received official Buy Social accreditation from Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) a year after the Speaker of the House of Commons pledged his commitment to the social enterprise sector.

Rt Hon John Bercow MP has worked closely with one of the leading political figures in the social enterprise movement Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP to raise awareness of the social, environmental and economic benefits of social enterprise.

Bercow said that it was his intention to, “humanise, modernise and better the operations of the house as an employer and as a service provider,” because while what the Houses of Parliament did as a legislature will always be its primary function, what it did as an employer and as a service provider “is nevertheless critical”.

“It says something about our DNA as an organisation how we conduct ourselves in those matters,” the Speaker said.

The Houses of Parliament is now an official Living Wage Foundation-accredited organisation – with no member of staff, either permanent or contracted-in, being paid less than £9.15 an hour. All bottled water in both the Houses of Commons and Lords is supplied from the social enterprise Belu and a social enterprise gym and nursery have been opened for staff.

Both Bercow and Blears acknowledged that these developments had initially been met with some resistance. Just five years ago some in the House felt there was no suitable place to open a nursery for the many working parents in the organisation – but that keeping the shooting range was perfectly reasonable.

“10 years ago where were we? We were I think niche, a bit kind of odd – strange people who did that social entrepreneurship stuff. I used to bang on about it when I first came to Parliament and people would wonder what on earth I was talking about but now look where we are,” said Blears.

The official Buy Social accreditation – which recognises organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors that have social enterprises in their supply chains, and consider added social and environmental value when procuring or commissioning goods and services – took place at a small lunch reception in Speaker’s House.

Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus congratulated those in attendance for their achievements in making the Houses of Parliament a more social and ethical institution. “It is an important step that they are not only supporting you in policies and so on but in action too,” he said.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of SEUK, reflected on the progress of the social enterprise sector: “The reason why we are here today is because this movement is attracting talent – it is inspiring new people to come in from the private sector to start fantastic businesses.

“50% of charities now see themselves as social enterprises. We are attracting people from housing associations, universities, the NHS – all sorts of people from society.”

The Speaker concluded his speech to the 150 guests and senior figures from procurement, government and social enterprise by looking ahead.

“We will regard this not as end of day, close of business, job done, but as a modest pat on the head for the progress we have made and a real exhortation to double and to triple our efforts in the years ahead. Let us resolve to do better in the period that lies ahead,” he said.


Photo credit: SEUK