The Queen’s speech outlined forthcoming legislation that, if passed, will increase the opportunities for social enterprises and other organisations delivering social value. Improving care, reducing re-offending, and water – three areas where enterprises with a strong social purpose operate effectively.
Let’s look at each area and consider the possibilities.
The Care Bill (England only) will give everybody a legal entitlement to a personal care budget, which they can receive as a direct payment to spend as they wish. This provision, more than any other, gives social enterprises a great opportunity. Existing NHS and care providers are often too large, too bureaucratic, and too unimaginative to be able to provide services that we might want if we have a personal care budget. The very impressive work done by organisations such as the Care Plus Group
and Local Care Direct
show that social enterprises are very good at providing imaginative individual services that people want to buy, and benefit from. It’s time for social enterprises providing health and care services to think about how they are going to communicate their services to a new, large, empowered market.
The measures in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill are, perhaps, already well known. Supervising (and supporting) offenders who serve less than a year in prison for a period of 12 months is a no-brainer and my guess is that it will reduce re-offending. Increasing the amount of supervision that people who serve between one and two years in prison also seems sensible. We know that NOMS and some of the larger ‘prime contractors’ are already making significant efforts to build a strong supply chain of social enterprises able to work with offenders after release. It is up to social enterprises to demonstrate that they can be part of the supply chain, and support is available to help them. Carol Deslandes of Inspire2Enterprise is working hard with dozens of social enterprises in the east and south midlands to help them become ‘contract ready’.
The proposed Water Bill allows business, charity and public-sector customers to switch their water supplier. Water companies will find it easier to trade water with each other. As we know, some water companies are owned by multi-national investors, Thames Water for instance. However, Welsh Water is owned by Glas Cymru, a single purpose company with no shareholders. The company’s assets and capital investment are financed by bonds and retained financial surpluses. It may not be a Community Interest Company, but Welsh Water has been described, by no less a person than Stephen Lloyd of Bates, Wells and Braithwaite, as one of the largest socially enterprising companies in the UK. The Bill offers an interesting opportunity for larger customers to vote with their taps.
Two measures covered in the Queen’s speech should also make it easier to run social enterprises:
Reducing the cost of hiring by being entitled to a £2,000 employment allowance, as outlined in the National Insurance Contributions Bill, will certainly make it easier for the social entrepreneurs I know to take on more staff as their business grows. The bill will also help make the employment playing field slightly more level if, as it proposes, companies will be stopped from using offshore companies to avoid paying their National Insurance contributions.
By simplifying patent and design protection laws, the Intellectual Property Bill’s proposed Unified Patent Court should make it easier for social enterprises to protect their clever inventions and innovations in Europe as well as the UK. One potential barrier to overseas expansion will be reduced and, hopefully, our sector will become more aware of the need to protect its intellectual property.
And finally (as an aside) to Immigration, The Economist (4th May edition) reports that on 2 May this year ‘Innovate for America’, an idea developed by Scott Sandell, a venture capitalist, launched a plan to get American firms with at least one immigrant founder to publicise the number of people they have hired in America. The Economist says that “At innovateforamerica.org, companies can submit the number of jobs they have added since their launch”. By installing a piece of code on their websites, individual organisations can display the total number of jobs all companies signed up to the scheme have created. Start-ups with at least one foreign-born founder include Google and Yahoo! For me, the message is ‘be careful who you deport’.
UKIP may not agree with me of course, but I will just have to live with that!