Private Member’s Bills are a great opportunity for backbench MPs to influence the actions of Government. So I am delighted when I came third in the recent ballot.
I am particularly proud of the wonderful array of social enterprises, charities and third sector organisations that flourish in my constituency, Warwick and Leamington. So when I was deciding on what my Private Member’s Bill should be about, I wanted to see what I could do to help these voluntary organisations in my constituency and across the country.
This is why I have put forward legislation that will seek to put social enterprises firmly on the agenda (both national and local), and will place social outcomes at the heart of public sector procurement.
Social enterprises are defined by the Government presently as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purposes in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners” and they are becoming an ever increasing part of our economy, generating over £20 billion a year or nearly 2% of our GDP.
These community-facing organisations combine a public-spirited ethos with a commitment to providing quality goods and services. For me, they embody the very principles that we fought our election campaign on: encouraging people and organisations to find innovative ways of providing goods and services; developing stronger communities and finding ways to maximise our public services.
My bill will mandate the Government to develop a strategy for all departments on encouraging social enterprises so that there is joined-up thinking when it comes to creating new initiatives and projects.
However, I recognise that social enterprises are generally small and tailored to specific community need and that is why I have also made sure that local communities are involved. The bill will mandate local authorities to come up with their own strategies, using the social enterprises that exist within their area and engaging local communities in the creation of these strategies.
Strategies are useful, but we also need to cultivate a climate of community cohesion. This is why my bill seeks to change procurement policy to ensure that social outcomes and value are considered within the overall ‘value for money’ framework. I believe that this will increase the opportunities available to social enterprises, charities and other third sector organisations being awarded contracts; and help to reduce long term costs and influence the private sector.
For example, if an NHS Trust was to procure leaflets and posters for a health campaign, by purchasing them from an organisation which hired those that have been long term unemployed, the NHS can stimulate the local economy, keeping people in work and thus reducing the strain on local public services such as the NHS and therefore helping to reduce long term costs.
Some in the public sector have started to use this approach but I feel that now is the perfect opportunity to embed this across the public sector.
This is also a chance to influence the behaviour of the private sector. In encouraging private sector companies to think about the social benefits they create when applying for government contracts, I believe this will make them think about other ways their business can generate social value and benefit communities.
We have a real opportunity in the wake of the recession and with a new Government in place, to change the way that we deliver public services. We have a real opportunity to stimulate social enterprises, charities and voluntary sector organisations and we have a real opportunity to change the culture of the private sector.
I want to make sure that we make the most of that opportunity.