My dad is worried about me.
He’s a pro-State socialist. A labour man; ex-trade union rep and proud believer in welfare, in the responsibility of government to provide a safety net – to look after the many, not the few.
He’s listened to me talk about Stepping Out, about what we’re trying to support in terms of a shift in public service delivery and he’s worried. Worried that I’ve been turned, that I’m in league with those looking to commercialise social and health services, that I’m helping to dismantle the welfare state.
I hear – and feel – similar suspicions when I’ve spoken with union representatives in areas exploring the options of social enterprise spin-outs for health or social care services.
The anxiety is understandable. I had it too when I first heard about the spin out agenda. The vocabulary of externalisation, business plans, company structures and financial modelling… it felt a long way from a commitment to core values, care free at the point of use, empowerment.
The unions lose my sympathy, however, when they make comments such as ‘I don’t really understand this social enterprise thing, but I can tell you we are opposed to it’ or ‘I’d rather people were made redundant from the Council and get a good payout, than have their jobs transfer into this social enterprise’.
Conviction is one thing; I more naturally lean towards a belief that the State should be responsible for meeting the needs of those in our society who are vulnerable or in crisis. I also think there are decisions emanating from the current government that should be resisted.
However, stubbornly sticking to a mindset despite the evidence that the world is shifting on quicksand is pointless. The financial pressures on local authorities are mind-boggling and will not be resisted by a
defiant, arms-crossed ‘I’m protecting public sector jobs and services’ stance.
If local authorities don’t deliver services directly – and that is becoming impossible on the budgets available - the immediate alternative is tendering services out to the private sector. A sector queuing up to deliver services and to cream 10, 20% off the budget for investors. This isn’t the future, this is now. The market already exists in health and social care.
By looking at the options for social enterprise to come forward as a route to deliver public services, I’m not giving in – I’m looking for a (forgive me) third way.
What Stepping Out is trying to support is an alternative to outsourcing, an option that removes the profit motive and gives more power to frontline staff and service users.
My dad at least has the wisdom to listen to what spinning out is about before he disowns me.
And I think he hears me. He hears me when I say that we’re trying to help some extraordinary public servants who when faced with blood-curdling cuts are prepared to take a personal risk in pursuit of a better future for their services.
He is reassured when I explain that the potential winners when this comes off are not shareholders, but frontline staff, service users & patients, the Councils and Trusts who get to deliver savings and commission quality services.
And he remembers how when he was a foster carer the system around the children was bureaucratic and broken; how when I was a local authority social worker he worried about the impact of the demoralising culture – he remembers ultimately that no-one who has seen inside public sector delivery is able to claim ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
So, don’t worry dad. We’re not trying to auction public services to private providers or dismantle the welfare state. We’re just trying to reposition it for the current challenges and trying in particular to re-arm motivated public servants so they can flourish in the battles ahead.
Spinning out is a pro-public service model, it’s about supporting public sector workers – giving them control of their futures, not voluntary redundancy – and striving for quality and innovation in the face of reduced central government funding.