Social enterprise should be the responsibility of BEIS, says SEUK CEO

Social enterprise should be the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), says CEO of Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) Peter Holbrook, in response to the government’s Industrial Strategy published this week.

The responsibility for social enterprise strategy in the UK falls within the remit of the Office for Civil Society (OSC), which in July 2016 was transferred from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The minister for the DCMS is Tracey Crouch MP. In 2001, under Tony Blair's Labour government, a social enterprise unit was set up within the Department for Trade and Industry (which later became BEIS) and a social enterprise strategy was published in 2002.

Holbrook said: “Despite the energy and ambition of our new minister, it appears clear the Office for Civil Society is unable to exert any influence over BEIS for the benefit of the sector and wider society. It is time to move responsibility for social enterprise to BEIS so that our voice can be heard and our ideas considered."

This is not the first time the CEO of SEUK has advocated for the social enterprise reshuffle within the government. In 2016, SEUK co-ordinated a letter from more than 25 businesses to the BEIS, calling for it to take responsibility for social enterprise.

In a statement released at the time, Holbrook said: “Responsibility for social enterprise, investment, co-operatives and mutuals has always sat somewhat uncomfortably outside the Department for Business. We know that with the support of the Department of Business, social enterprises, social investors, community energy co-operatives and other businesses working to improve society and the environment can continue to lead the way in building a fairer, more sustainable UK economy.”

SEUK, the UK’s social enterprise membership body, also responded to the government’s Industrial Strategy by publishing a new report by former MP and author of the Public Services (Social Value Act) 2012, Chris White, titled Our Money, our future.

Holbrook said: "The Industrial Strategy is a step forward when what is needed is a step change. Social enterprises welcome Government’s commitment to a much more an active role in shaping the economy, but that the Industrial Strategy does not even include the word ‘inequality’ speaks volumes about the priorities of this administration.

“It is bewildering that the Government has chosen not to address procurement and particularly social value in the Industrial Strategy given the support for this across the business community, public sector procurement teams, the voluntary sector, and think tanks. Brexit looks to have blinded our Government from seeing the levers it has at its disposal to reshape the economy and kickstart growth.

Imagine how much more bang for our buck the country would get if we extended the Social Value Act to cover all public sector expenditure

In agreement, former Conservative MP, White, said “The Government is missing a trick if it does not extend the Social Value Act. The Act currently ‘shapes’ around £25bn of public sector spending, meaning that we as taxpayers are getting more young people into apprenticeships and more people with disabilities into employment, as well as delivering significant cost savings.

“At present around £243bn of public sector spending is beyond the reach of the Social Value Act. Imagine how much more bang for our buck the country would get if we extended the Social Value Act to cover all public sector expenditure.”

Strengthening the Social Value Act is now supported by a wide variety of organisations spanning the private, public, and voluntary sector, and from the left and right of politics including: The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Power to Change, The House of Lords Select Committee on the Future of Charities, HCT Group, The Society of Conservative Lawyers, The Society of Labour Lawyers, the Liberal Democrats and the Cooperative Party.

The Our Money, our future report sets out the following five recommendations:

  1. The Act needs to be extended to all public spending, and also to decision making.
  2. The Act needs to be strengthened requiring commissioners to “account for” not just “consider” social value.
  3. Social value needs to be included in devolution deals.
  4. These changes need to be supported by clearer statutory guidance by central government.
  5. A biennial State of Social Value Audit conducted independently but with the support of the Government.

Holbrook concluded: “As a country, we are facing the single largest peacetime challenge since the oil shocks of the 1970s; inequality is reaching startling levels; and, there are worrying structural imbalances in the economy.

“Yet Brexit also offers an opportunity for Government to design a distinctively social set of public sector procurement policies to deal with some of these problems. Sadly, it appears that the desire or the vision to shake things up is not present.”

Pioneers Post contacted the DCMS for a response to Holbrook's statement but at the time of going to print did not receive a reply. 


To read the Our Money, our future report in full, click here.

Photo credit: SEUK