When I set up Stepping Out, I expected it exclusively to be about groups of public managers wanting to set up free-standing businesses. What I didn't anticipate was the appetite for partnerships between groups wanting to spin out and existing social businesses and charities. About half the calls we get at the moment are about this.
Why does it have appeal? Three reasons stand out. The first is that public managers are often well aware that they don't have the full set of capabilities to go it alone. And the idea of doing everything from scratch - setting up accounts, payroll, HR etc - is deeply off-putting. A partner who can bring know-how and some slot-in back-office functions has some appeal.
The second factor is that Councils and other public bodies feel a lot less nervous when a third party is involved. Having a 'name' organisation involved assures Councillors in particular that the venture is legitimate and that if a well-known name is willing to risk their reputation on a joint-venture project, they are safe to do so too. Plus, as risk averse organisations, councils like the idea that someone who know what they are doing will be helping to deliver the new service safely and on time.
The third factor, and this is crucial, is about values. Hardly anyone I speak to in public sector wants to go in with an organisation whose ethos is a million miles from their own. While they can envisage doing business and even delivering alongside an organisation set up purely for profit, the idea of being joint partners in an organisation which is clearly identified as money-making is, rightly or wrongly, a turn-off for most public managers - and, interestingly, Councillors too who need a simple 'good-change' story to tell to the voters that isn't 'privatisation through the back-door'.
How many of these conversations with come to anything we don't know, but I am struck by how many Councils, charities and social enterprises seem to want to work together on spin-outs. It's not a direction I anticipated but one which I can see a lot of mileage in.