Free Community Catalysts events: Exploring partnerships and supporting new enterprise to flourish

The excellent Community Catalysts have organised a series of events that will bring together ways in which disabled people’s organisations and older people’s organisations can work in partnership with others to support disabled and older people to set up social care enterprises.

Community Catalysts starts with the assumption that everybody has skills, talents and aspirations they can use, irrespective of age, impairment or illness. Since many older and disabled people use social care services and know what good (and bad) care looks like better than anyone else, they can often establish their own enterprise offering care or support services to others. The events therefore look at how to help create the right environment in which this can happen.

There are 3 free events – in Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Bristol. You can find out more about them and sign up via the links below:

I’m pleased to say that representatives from the Strengthening DPULOs Programme will be at each of these events, so we hope to meet you there.

(We’ve worked with Community Catalysts before. You can find out more about CC’s offer to DPULOs in this useful two-pager.)


Establishing social enterprises in health: learning the lessons for DPULOs

I blogged recently on the King’s Fund’s recent interesting report on “Social Enterprise in Health Care”. (What can I say: I’m not the sort of person you want to get trapped in the kitchen with at a party.)

In that post, I highlighted that the King’s Fund wants to create conditions in which social enterprises can flourish and grow, and said that this would also have a beneficial impact for Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations (DPULOs).

I thought it would be useful, then, to highlight some of the other points that the report highlighted more widely, since many of these are relevant to DPULOs as well – either specifically within health or more generally across the various parts of the public sector DPULOs can work in.

External factors

The regulatory environment and access to finance act as barriers to the growth of social enterprises. The Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) partly addressed these barriers by providing £8.3 million to ‘Right to Request’ applicants. (The Strengthening DPULOs Programme, through its Facilitation Fund, acts in a similar way.). The support offered through the SEIF, though, was under pressure since there were more requests to it than it could meet. Other financial barriers that can be addressed can be indirect barriers: for example, removing taxation constraints.

Furthermore, understanding and addressing barriers can be and is being done in non-financial ways. For example, the Cabinet Office provides an information line and web service for social enterprises. Similarly, they have set up a mutuals taskforce to reduce some of the red tape social enteprises face, and have established “pathfinder mutuals” – organisations which are becoming mutuals and receive support, and via which learning about and solutions to problems they face will be highlighted.

Wanting to become a social enterprise is sometimes the “least worst” option, often motivated by being led by the ‘right’ sort of people instead of being taken over or merging with the ‘wrong’ sort. Other motivations for wanting to become a social enterprise include wanting to be more autonomous, to speed up decision making and to reduce bureaucracy.

Internal factors

Structural changes to organisations that happen from the top down – for example changing structures or governance documents – are not as effective as creating employee-led (and possibly by extension, user-led) initiatives. Engagement should be driven from the bottom up and be a permanent feature of the organisation’s culture and structure.

This said, supportive legal and financial frameworks were an essential ingredient in building the platform for engagement. Similarly, dedicated business support that offers advice and input specific to learning and development around social enterprises (and thus user-led organisations) is most beneficial.

The Right to Request, third party organisations and adding value

I’ve read the summary of NAO’s interesting report about the Right to Request programme, which supports NHS staff to apply to form a social enterprise to supply services under contract to PCTs.

There are a number of interesting points highlighted in the report, which I note (in no particular order or logic) below:

  • Employee-owned social enterprises have been spun out to provide services to PCTs since 2008, i.e. prior to the Coalition Government coming to power (para 1).
  • Government policy is to “support social enterprises and mutuals spinning out from parts of the public sector” (para 4). This is presumably about much more than the government encouraging the setting up of social enterprises and mutuals as a means to an end, which means that government recognises the added value that such organisations can and do add to the health economy.
  • One of the first benefits identified by employee-led social enterprises is of reduced staff absence rates (para 7). I don’t know why, but this always seems to be one of the first measures of success identified by such organisations.
  • The Right to Request programme has worked well through having a centrally-run support unit within DH, and that the objectives of the RtR programme are aligned with the wider objectives of the DH (para 9).

By far the most interesting point is raised in paragraph 10:

PCTs approved proposals for spinning out social enterprises where enterprises promised more benefits than the alternatives but did not generally contract for them to deliver these additional benefits.

For me this is part of a wider point relating more generally to third party delivery of services. If, as public bodies and third party organisations (be they private, voluntary or social enterprise sector) wish and claim, third party organisations deliver added value beyond that provided by a “traditional” service, then that added value must be articulated, contracted for, captured and assessed.

I absolutely think it is the case third parties add value; they must continue to drive themselves to demonstrate – both qualitatively and quantitatively – this added value they provide.

In its report, the NAO has taken the view that PCTs and government needs to demonstrate this value; though I agree to an extent, I’d take the view that PCTs and government need to create the space in which third party organisations can demonstrate the added value they create.