Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guardian Social Enterprise Conference 2010

I hadn't had a whole day at a conference for ages so I decided to treat myself to the day ahead of chairing the final plenary.

Overall, good day. There were two big questions today. One was about how the social enterprise sector can work with the private sector. How can this work in practice? How can we overcome suspicion and work with each others' agendas to grow the pie? The other was about social enterprises emerging from the public sector. How will they get along? What will help them survive and thrive?

The big focus for the public sector part of the conversation was the 60 odd Right to Requests from the NHS. While only three are out, about 60 will become live in the coming two years. After that, Right to Request in its current form will be no more. No protected three year contract. Not necessarily transferable T & Cs - though we await more info on this. I asked Health Minister Andrew Lansley about the willingness of people to step out without a guaranteed contract to give them time to become competitive.

In my view this could put already hesitant people off. While I am all for any-willing-provider, the pragmatist in me realises that nascent public enterprises would get whacked in open competition on day one. They need a couple of years to get their act together. Without it I am worried the supply of the willing - already only trickle of 10% of the whole - will get cut off.

That said, life inside the public sector is no longer as comfortable as it was. The public sector pension is vulnerable and it is no longer a safe place. Escape has probably never looked more attractive. CEO of City Healthcare, Andrew Burnell, described his journey as one of liberation. Time spent spinning around paperwork and managing upward is now spent running his business.

As MD of Stepping Out, today felt heartening. There is realism and appetite. But a lot of questions. All of these new ventures will need rapid reform and investment if they are to compete. It has never been a more interesting time to be in social enterprise

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