By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday the Private Member’s Bill being championed by Chris White, the MP for Warwick and Leamington, had its Second Reading Debate.
In short, the Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill aims to promote social enterprise in a national social enterprise strategy and in local authority sustainable community strategies. It would also make particular public authorities take account of wider economic, social and environmental well-being in commissioning goods, works or services.
“The idea of a big society, a responsible society, or a civic society, is timeless. It has inspired politicians from all political parties for centuries. I believe that it encapsulates the idea that people can truly flourish only if they feel part of an organic, evolving and strong society. It recognises that we are not merely economic units to be put into certain boxes and cut off from others, but human beings who wish to belong and to feel actively involved in a wider society.
“That is a powerful philosophy, and it has been the strong motivation behind my Bill. However, although it is easy merely to say what one believes, it is much more difficult to put forward concrete proposals that can help to realise those beliefs. This Bill is my attempt to do such a thing. In order to realise a stronger society and to build on those bonds within communities, we need to empower and champion civil society. We need to create the conditions for civil society to flourish. We need to create the opportunity for voluntary organisations, social enterprise, charities and socially responsible businesses to thrive. That will not happen by itself.”
He went on to explain the specifics that the Bill is proposing:
“The Bill asks the appropriate Secretary of State to create one national strategy to look at the promotion of social enterprise. I hope that that would lead to the consolidation of all strategies across the Government into one clear, joined-up piece of work, so that we do not have a hotch-potch of strategies, which ultimately confuses and frustrates many in the sector.
“I recognise that strategies and the like often cause many Members a nervous twitch, so I have done my best to find an estimate of how much such a strategy might cost in terms of manpower and consultation. According to the figures that I have been given, it is estimated that it would cost about £41,000. That is about £63 per constituency, under the current boundaries, or one tenth of a penny per elector… I recognise that we face difficult challenges, but the proposals are something for which we can and should pay. A clearer set of proposals from central Government and a more strategic outlook will do a lot to help this emerging sector.
“In the second part of the Bill, I have tried to ensure that when locally generated sustainable community strategies are created, they consider social enterprises in their area. It is important that communities are given the chance to engage in the creation of sustainable community strategies, but there is a role for organisations such as social enterprises, which often emerge as responses to sustainability issues in communities. By considering such strategies and promoting engagement with them, we can help to generate more community-led and community-based solutions, empowering communities by promoting the vehicles that they can use to deliver solutions.”
“The third and final part of the Bill… relates to social value. The Bill asks all organisations that are currently publicly contracting authorities under the Public Contract Regulations 2006 to consider how they might promote wider economic, social and environmental well-being in a contract and how they commission such contracts accordingly. Although considering that wider social value during the contracting process is only a small technical change, it would bring significant benefits for our public services in terms of the quality of contracting. It would also benefit communities, social enterprises, voluntary groups and small businesses, which generate considerable social value.”
The minister summing up or the Government, Nick Hurd, signalled that the Government were happy to see the Bill progress to its committee stage, where they will seek to make some amendments, but that they were behind its principles:
“We support the core proposition of the Bill that we should place a firmer requirement on commissioners—those who do the very difficult job of shaping and purchasing public services on our behalf—to consider the potential to maximise the social, environmental and economic impact of every pound they spend on behalf of the taxpayer. In doing so, the Bill builds on the principle of the best value duty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) said.
“The Bill is also consistent with what the Government are trying to achieve with the big society agenda. I genuinely hope that that issue becomes less partisan over time, not least because—as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and the right hon. Lady, the former Secretary of State[Hazel Blears], said—the message builds on the aspirations of, and actions taken by, former Governments. Given the problems and challenges that we face as a country, it must be right to challenge all of us to think about our obligations and personal responsibilities beyond just paying taxes and obeying the law. It must be right to work together to try to find better ways to do things and, in that process, to try to tap into the skills, talents, ideas, experience and entrepreneurial energy that exists in our communities, but which too often feels shut out from the system. It must be right to encourage and support people to come together to try solve problems and improve life for themselves and their communities.”
The Bill was given a Second Reading without the need for a division and now proceeds to its Committee Stage..