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Campaigners welcome movement on bill that promises billions to civil society

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Mon, 26/09/2011

Proposed legislation would break new ground, asking councils to make spending decisions in the interests of 'economic, social or environmental wellbeing', rather than price alone

  • Government annual spend on commissioning and procurement stands at £236 billion
  • "Public money would go into communities" says Social Enterprise UK
  • Public Bill Committee members announced

Next month a Private Member's Bill that has attracted cross party support will go to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons to be debated by MPs, following a victory at second reading late last year.

Government ministers and members of the opposition supported the Public Services Bill, which if made law, would ask councils in England and Wales to commission services that add economic, social or environmental value, rather than simply providing lowest cost. The Government's annual spend on commissioning and procurement is £236 billion [1].

Such legislation would be an opportunity for social enterprises and charities to deliver more public services. For years social enterprises have delivered services in health and social care, education, housing, transport and environmental management, but a recent research report reveals that social enterprises have lost their confidence in public service markets [2]. Two thirds (64%) of social enterprises who anticipate growth say it will come from diversification away from working with the public sector.

Social Enterprise UK, the national body for social enterprise, has been campaigning in favour of the Bill since summer 2010, rallying the support of politicians and civil society leaders and professionals.

Social Enterprise UK's comments on the Bill

Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK's Chief Executive, says the Bill - if made legislation - could give the Big Society vision credence:

"Here's a Bill that could grow the number of social enterprises and charities delivering public services when the cuts are hitting the voluntary sector hard. This is an opportunity for the country's leaders and decision makers to prove that they're serious about the Big Society as a policy and social enterprises and charities playing a bigger role. Big Society needs to be backed by progressive legislation changes.

"The country is in a recession and communities would benefit from councils making spending decisions that worked in their favour and brought about economic and social recovery."

The Bill tabled by Conservative MP Chris White, captured the imagination of politicians and already has cross party support. If voted for, it could be on the statute book by next summer.

Chris White MP said:

"This Bill provides a way for the Government to really support the social enterprise and civil society agendas as well as opening up our public services to more diverse providers.

For too long, commissioners have been hamstrung into thinking only in terms of cost and not in terms of community benefit - this Bill will give local authorities and other public sector organisations the chance to think more imaginatively and squeeze maximum benefit out of every pound of public money spent. It is a short Bill, but it will make a big difference."

Benefits of social enterprises and charities delivering public services

  • As well as delivering value for money, social enterprises and charities provide additional benefits to communities that can save local authorities money in the long-run. For example, by helping people back into employment previously reliant on job seekers allowance or incapacity benefit.
  • Social enterprises and charities often deliver a better service because they have expert knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the communities in which they work, and often have better access to hard to reach groups.
  • Social enterprises and charities are often innovative in their approach and have a strong track record in delivering pioneering solutions.

Early adopter - Durham County Council

A small number of councils are already sharpening their commissioning and procurement practices, signalling what the future could look like if the Bill is passed. Durham County Council, one of the largest councils in the country, is developing new protocols for supplier engagement that will support social enterprises and other civil society organisations to bid for contracts, as well as training procurement officers and commissioners so they can assess the kind of additional value that contract providers can offer, rather than just the cheapest price.

How to show your support for the Public Services Bill

Updates on the Bill's progress through Parliament.

Public Bill Committee members:

Conservatives - Chris White (Member in Charge), Nick Hurd (Minister), Michael Fabricant (Whip for Cabinet Office), Harriet Baldwin, Richard Fuller, Fiona Bruce, Charlie Elphicke, Steven Baker
Labour - Hazel Blears, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Barry Sheerman, Paul Goggins, Kate Green, Anas Sarwar
Liberal Democrats - Lorely Burt
Other - Jonathan Edwards



[2] Fightback Britain: A report on the State of Social Enterprise survey 2011. Social Enterprise UK [2.45mB, PDF].