Headlines: June 6th, 2001

As the polls point to a Labour victory followed by greater involvement of the private sector in delivering public services, social enterprise companies have raised their profile. Businesses that use entrepreneurial techniques to pursue social goals are bidding for an expanded role for the ‘social economy’. Social enterprise companies have a variety of social aims and trade in goods and services to create wealth and jobs and use the surpluses they generate for the benefit of their members, consumers and the community.They claim that social entrepreneurs have demonstrated the contribution that social enterprises can make to the delivery of a range of publicly funded services, including some areas of healthcare provision and childcare. They point to a growing momentum behind businesses that trade with a social purpose, as they offer value for money, and have proved adept at coming up with innovative and cost-effective ways of meeting local needs. They also argue that offering choices to public bodies and sharpening competition, makes all service providers more efficient and accountable, while promoting social empowerment and inclusion.

Social entrepreneurs are urging the Government to incorporate value for money and accountability to the customer into the definition of entrepreneurship. They want social enterprises to be put on an equal footing with conventional private sector companies, and to apply successful social enterprise models more widely.

Over the past two years social enterprises have gained increasing interest in public policy circles. The Treasury recognised their role in its Report on Enterprise and Social Exclusion. They are part of the remit of the Government’s Small Business Service and departments including the DTI, DfEE and DETR, take account of social enterprise in policies and programmes linked to competitiveness, lifelong learning, urban regeneration, neighbourhood renewal and the modernisation of the way local public services are delivered.