Sunday, July 31, 2011

Talent - who needs it?

All my life, I have had a funny relationship with sport. I have always played it but, in truth, never very well. Despite both parents being accomplished, I never got the gene; I have always been an effortful, though essentially incapable sportsperson.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because I have been enviously watching the British Open and seeing the super-talented make it all look really easy, but also because I believe in application over talent. In some respects, I am glad that while I didn't get the sports gene, I did get the one with the code that reads "prove to them you're good enough". I say this not to boast, but to say that I did quite well on not a lot of talent.

The same goes for me with work. I am well within the normal range in most areas, but I diligently polish the tiny bit of silver I've been handed, whether it's turning myself into a passable public speaker or a writer of columns for Third Sector.

Which brings me to my subject today: talent. I hear a lot of nonsense talked about this in our sector. The consultancy firm McKinsey & Company started it with the so-called War For Talent - a paper it published way back that basically said there's only a little bit of talent about and organisations should kill to get hold of it. By talent, it meant naturally super-performing people, most of whom happen, it seems, to have overflowing self-confidence and an Oxbridge education - the people already running the show. Not folks like me - or you, probably.

I think this sort of talent is grossly over-rated in all sectors, including our own. What isn't sufficiently rated is what I will simply call the right attitude: people with a compulsion to deliver, who, by sheer effort of will, get themselves up to a performing level are, in my reckoning, worth a lot more than the naturally brilliant.

In my life as a chief executive, I've met loads of born-supersonic people who didn't do very well, either in work or life. They always sounded good - that's easy when you give off confidence - but, on cool reflection, were total non-achievers. In truth, they were lazy or wasted their gifts by not giving enough of themselves.

So would I not rather have a team of Derby winners in my organisation than a bunch of earnest nags, I hear you ask? Doesn't true success require both talent and effort?

Ideally, yes - you need both. But I haven't met many thoroughbreds who aren't also draining to manage, and who are willing to give you years of their lives before they head off for new challenges. Talent is often thinking of the next thing, not what it is doing now.

So you can keep your talent. Give me an honest scrapper or grafter; someone who knows they have to prove themself. A person who understands that it takes five years to achieve anything worth writing home about. They are nearly always the better bet as an employee or business partner. These are the people our sector needs now

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Should Councillors be paid?

I sit on a Council and get ten grand a year for my trouble. Yes, ten grand. I actually think that's quite reasonable. Plus we get a 14% pension contribution. The public are often surprised when you tell them. They think, bless 'em that we all do it for nothing. Add on mileage and lunches and it's a cool 12k-15k for a part-time job.

I find myself split on the issue of Councillor pay. While I don't claim the mileage, I feel a bit odd being paid for what is essentially community service. Ten grand is a lot of money for some people. It costs our Council £0.75m in allowances alone, probably a million when you add on mileage, pensions etc. OK, that one five hundredth of the budget, but it is a cost.

Aggregrate the cost of all our councils in Suffolk - there are six district Councils all with about 40 Councillors each, all getting about £5k allowances plus expenses and you've got a further cost of, all in, about £1.5m. So costs of democracy are about, all said £3m for a typical Shire County.

Is this worth it? And could we get more some other way? There are two possible approaches to this. One is to ask whether having no pay or expenses would get us at least as good as we have now. I suspect, looking around the chamber, that the allowance is probably supplementing quite a few pensions. Pull it and I would bet about a quarter would be gone at the next election. However the other side to this is that the allowance does make it possible for low earners to do the role.

Part of me - the mischievous side - does feel attracted to the idea of cutting allowances altogether. We'd soon see how many community champions were left. It would also mean, now that the benches were no longer silted up with jaded Allowance-takers, that the parties would need to go looking for talented new people who were not motivated in any way by the money.

Another possible approach is to go the other way - to have far fewer Councillors, perhaps 25 for the County and 10 each for the Districts - two thirds fewer - but make the job a proper job, rather than a half-job. This would mean a £15-£25k role rather than a £5-10k one - but would effectively make being a Councillor a proper job. The upside would be that the role would attract people who would do it but can't afford to do it and hold down a job - the downside is that it would mean that anyone with another career would be deterred.

There's no really perfect answer to this. There are clearly too many Councillors. There are far, far too many crappy Councillors who do very little for anyone. The party system keeps talented people at bay and protects people who couldn't get a job at Tesco. We know all of that.

But I can't, at the moment, think of a new way to do local government which convincingly rectifies these problems. Fewer, smaller Councils sure. Quotas maybe? I would personally be in favour, even if I lost out as a middle-aged man (but youthful in council-terms). PR for local government? Certainly. But I might as well make an argument for leaving our doors open when we went out to work. All of this is idealism.

These turkeys are smart enough not to vote for Christmas.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Black Box versus Big Society Public Services

I got a letter on Friday. It was from Francis Maude. Of course, it wasn't to me personally, just the hundreds of others that eagerly signed up to the Cabinet Office's efforts to promote mutuals and social enterprises in public services.

Before and just after the election there was a lot of heat and light about this. Talk was of a million public sector workers moving into social enterprise by 2015. Privately I thought fat-chance but it was good to see this ambition. Then we saw the Cabinet Office struggling to gain traction across Government departments - never easy at the best of times but made harder by the countervailing desire of the Treasury to keep the public services market open with a clear preference for 'pay and play', 'black-box' services. These would be delivered by whoever won the contract. None of this Big Society, 'co-creation of services' nonsense.

Hence the rather rubbery White Paper on Open Public Services a couple of weeks ago. A Green Paper in all but name (have you ever seen a White Paper with a list of questions for the reader??), this paper was clearly about getting something out, not presenting a clear Government position.

What it does for spin-outs can be more clearly expressed by stating what it dodges. In short, the three 'P's. Procurement, Pensions and People. It doesn't tell public bodies that they can give spin-outs contracts and enjoy support from the centre in doing this. It doesn't clear the mud about pension-rights for staff joining a spin-out or going back into the public sector afterwards. It doesn't allow give clear rights to people who want to do this the entitlement to do it, assuming the business-case is there. Compared to the Academies Bill, which made all of the above very clear - with mass spinning out as a result - this White Paper was lightweight.

All is not gloom. The Government's own Mutual Support Programme opens in the Autumn and there are signs that the Department of Health's successful Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) will also reopen for business soon. Conferences are aplenty, and some have more than just consultants in attendance, notably the Employee Ownership Association's excellent event this month.

Further to this, there are also signs that local authorities in particular are rising from the canvas following the knockout blow from this current year's financial settlement. While a punishing in-year programme has needed to be put in place, absorbing all energy to date, councils are now eyeing the horizon and looking more strategically at the question of how they deal with greater demand and fewer resources long-term.

The answer many are coming up with is that you can only really deliver more and better public services through a more fulsome engagement with citizens and communities. The public service cake used to be just made of one ingredient: public money. In future, the cake will be more complex, combining public funds, private funds, citizen effort and community endevour. The tailored, equitable services we all want will only come with all of these extra element 'baked-in'.

The questions most councils up and down are now grappling with is how to do this. Legacy services are expensive and ineffective but often politically incendiary because of what they represent. Public libraries are an example. The potential for libraries as community-hubs is well-documented but you need to convince people of the need for a new type of settlement for these kinds of institutions to work properly. This includes volunteers on top of paid staff, fundraising on top of public funding, paid for services on top of free ones, a business outlook on top of a social one.

Where I am driving here is that I think the solution to the big question councils are grappling with lies in social enterprise. This defines social enterprise not in the frame of the public-private continuum, but as an entirely new approach to producing the public goods that most of us wish to see in our communities. For this reason, we should see their development as outside the usual EU procurement mindset that preoccupies most commissioners of services. Local authorities should be freed up from worrying about that and worry instead about how they are going to best combine their own resources with those of communities and citizens.

Can't the private sector do this just as well? Cannot a tender spec be written that is broad enough and open-ended enough to allow the private sector to do all of the above? While I don't totally rule it out, it is important, at this stage, to be able to convince all sides - local politicians, the public, staff and users - that we all need to bring what we have to the table. The profit motive, while a noble and good thing - just doesn't work in this sort of context. The trust - barely there now - required to bring about a new settlement, is going to be absent if people believe the profit motive is at work, however well-intentioned this is.

There are another couple of reasons why I think the private sector isn't quite right for leading this kind of change. Firstly, the track record of the large-scale private sector in social innovation, at least the sectors I know - disability - isn't that strong. Investment goes where the money is, even if it's in rebuilding long-stay institutions that undo years of social progress.

Secondly, I think the risks for private investors are too open-ended. You can't nail these specifications down hard enough. Outcomes will need to flex and evolve, not be fixed at the the beginning. It's just not natural private sector territory, at least the large end of the private sector. Certain small players, with a balanced approach to profit versus other goals (like us in fact) will be part of it, I am sure. But the big players- Serco and the like, I struggle to see them engaging.

Which bring me back full-circle to spin-outs. I believe in them because they co-mingle public money, citizen and community effort together into something new and different from the 'black box', 'pay and play' public services beloved of the Treasury. What we're talking about is not black box but big society, good society, call it what you will. And, of the competing world views out there just now, for me, Big/Good Society is right one when it comes to our future public services.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is capital punishment justified in Norway?

On a weekend when 80-odd young people lie dead and Amy Winehouse also died I find myself feeling pretty flat. Tomorrow the agent of Norway's killing gets his chance to air his views, and justify his actions, in the courtroom.

That no air will ever again pass the lips of scores of Norway's best young people seems insufficient to prevent his grandstanding. Were I a parent I am not sure I could easily countenance that indulgence at this time. This man should, at this early stage, be forced to stay silent. This is not his time.

I am not a pacifist but I really struggle with the notion of killing. Being able to do it, I mean. There are moments, perhaps in extreme self-defence, when ending another's life seems just about imaginable. But to take life after life, to hunt people like rats takes some kind of deranged detachment.

Each life ended in a solitary moment by a single shot was one nurtured by hundreds of thousands of mindful actions of love by others. Today, the lives of tens of thousands - parents, siblings, friends, teachers, uncles, aunts - will have been changed permanently. Every death does that. Needless, shocking deaths like this are never truly gotten over.

Which brings us onto the perpetrator. If my children had been among those slain, I am sure I would, on the day after, be happy to personally avenge what happened. This feeling would, I suspect, be replaced, in the following weeks, by a desire for judicial killing. But this defies my intellectual belief that good societies do not kill even people like this. Yet while my children had been robbed of theirs, their killer living would be difficult to take.

What I am saying is that after this incident, I am not sure my liberal convictions on capital punishment could stand the test that those parents are going to go through once the shock of what has happened has subsided and grief takes it long toll.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's holding back spin outs?

Having spent a whirlwind year alongside spin-outs I would point to three key challenges to doing it.

Finding the right people

Every successful business needs a brilliant team. Most spin-outs have one or two brilliant people and a handful of OK ones. Many are reluctant to improve the quality of senior management as the organisation grows. This will be a particular challenge I believe in the health Right to Request. These are massive businesses in a complex market and organisations don’t often quite appreciate how far their top team and board is from where they need to be.

Managing growth

Growth and quality often run in opposite directions. Few organisations can walk and chew gum at the same time. The trouble is that growth seldom comes in manageable quantities and many spin out orgs are faced either with few prospects or projects which stretch the organisation to breaking point. Understanding in SE organisations about how to manage growth is often fairly low. The project management and change-management capabilities are seldom there. So growth poses a real danger to quality I feel in spin outs.


Many spin out organisations I come across are less clear about what exactly they are trying to achieve than their commercial equivalents. Or if they are, it isn’t particularly specific. This is rooted I think in the multipurpose nature of these organisations and the desire to find some kind of balance. But there’s often a reluctance to commit to particular levels of growth or profit. Even social goals remain pretty general. These should be articulated, committed to and worked towards with the same focus as private organisations go after profit. For out of certainty comes focus and energy. Spin-outs can lack this I feel.

Spin-outs have been a slow-burn for some time now, certainly in health and social care. Compare our sector to the academies sector if you want to see a real pace of change. Indeed In Suffolk half of our secondaries will be converted to academies by September. A stunning pace of change.

Part of the reason for this is that successive governments have stood full-square behind their creation and have not permitted local authorities to get in the way. Another reason is that Heads tend to be confident, capable people who can lead. For me a lot will come down to the content and message of the Public Services White Paper.

Will the Government encourage councils to offer guaranteed contracts to spin-outs for at least 3 years? Will they offer a simple route through the pensions question? Will there be a small fund for grants to new spin-outs to get them going? This is the support needed for the sector.

What other support might they need? In my experience, spin-out need both hard, technical support in terms of legals and financials and a lot of soft support in terms of coaching and leadership development. Unfortunately in my view, far more resources go into the hard end than the soft end and I think this has to change now that there are clear templates for spin-outs. The principal requirement of the new spinout is to be ready for independent life and to have the capabilities to operate and grow from a standalone position. That is mainly about people.

The right people with the right capabilities. That is where I think the focus should be more than it is now.

Friday, July 8, 2011

42 and....ok with it

Later this month I turn 42. Not with any particular angst - quite the opposite in fact. My forties so far have been kind to me. I feel in the best bit of my life. Health is good. I feel happy most of the time. I have both a history and a future. My life feels anchored. I kind of know what I'm doing most of the time now. Things don't really faze me any more. Even when things are a bit frantic, I feel calm. After all, nobody's probably going to die.

So far so banal, I guess. But I sometimes wonder whether I am getting too comfortable. The forties are a funny decade. In fact, from what I see, it's not a decade in its own right, but the weird interim between of this period just after the end of your thirties- when you've got hair, status and a future (a place in which I am basking now) and this pretty wild place just before the beginning of your fifties when your hair falls out, your wife decides she doesn't like you and nobody takes your calls any more. A time when you become Part of the Past.

I have, in recent years, observed many a happy early 40-something morph, over a few years, into a troubled 47,48 or 49 year old. They almost always have a marital crisis, even if this doesn't involve leaving their wife or partner. A job or career suddenly feels no longer right and they go through an awful period of transition where they have to define theirselves anew, either through redundancy or simply not being able to face the old job any more.

On a personal level, they become taciturn, a bit unpredictable, given to mood-swings. They drink more. More often than not, they gain weight and look a lot older. If they're really unlucky, their physical health starts to go bad too. Lots of aches, pains and minor ailments.

I am, of course, talking about the famous mid-life crisis. This is as real as day, in my view and it appears to affect most people. I know far more men than women, but I also think it affect females too, but in a different way. The good news is that most people seem to get through it. Health, happiness and direction all return. There's an acceptance, somehow, of whatever it is that was bringing them down. Life, they realise, is too short for staying in a hole. Changes are made, a new phase begins. The cycle of life brings them a kind of peace or concilation with their lot.

Which is why working with people in their 50s is normally so good. Men, particularly, seem to have gotten over their competitiveness by that stage. Their new predisposition seem to be pulling them towards collaboration rather than besting other people. Their edges seem taken off. Emotional intellegence seems greater in older men and they often have a nurturing side that maybe wasn't there in their younger selves.

When I reflect on the future, I know that life will change. I am fairly sure I will go through some tricky period of adjustment as I mentally transit from being still relatively young to truly middle-aged. I think it just goes with the territory.

But I look forward too to what will emerge on the other side. I think I have worked out now that happiness, for me (and for many) depends on long-term anchors in my life, a sense of purpose and living according to the values I feel increasingly aware of with the passage of time. It is also about gratitude. Appreciating what I have and feeling thankful every day. Knowing who I am now will, I hope, help me through the bumps and grinds of middle age and bring me out on the other side a better person than I am now.

So who is scared of becoming 42? Not me (honest!).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Open Future for Public Services? Think Again....

This week sees the publication of the Coalition's new Open Public Services White Paper. From what I understand, its content has been the subject of a tussle between the Steve Hilton wing - who see public service reform as a touch-paper for the Big Society (mutuals, community and third sector providers etc) and the Treasury who, I am fairly reliably informed, see BS as a load of old shit and just want to do a mixture of heavy-duty public sector efficiencies and quiet outsourcing to the private sector.

Whatever the truth is, the Bill we see will not be the free-for-all we were promised by the Coalition last year. Why? In one word - NHS. The idea of an open market for public services has, in effect, been put back by the revised Lansley reforms.

Even if the remaining policy is actually more market-friendly than the public realise, the politics has overtaken the policy and it's now virtually impossible to bring out a public services bill that is about 'privatisation', even in its most benign forms. As my friend Nick Seddon of Reform said just the the other day, you don't hear Andrew Lansley or anyone else talking about creating the biggest social enterprise sector in the world any more.

So what will be in the Bill? It will be a nice warm bath for fans of the Big Society I expect. There will be stuff in there about charities and communities taking over services and probably quite a bit about mutuals. And relatively little about the private sector, I anticipate. So a triumph for the forces of civil society?

Well, not quite. The brutal truth about the civil society sector, including social enterprise, is that we probably stood a better chance, as we did in the health sector, if the provider market was properly opened up to all sectors. This bill is, in effect, the work of an enfeebled, cowed Government that feels chastened by public opinion on the NHS and is becoming increasingly led by political rather than policy considerations.

So, rather than sponsoring a powerful Public Service Bill that has the key parts of the public sector properly opened up to other sectors, we will see some opening to civil society organisations which, in reality, will translate into a fairly small overall effect on the whole. If I were David Prentice or Bob Crowe, this is the kind of outcome that would suit me.

The truth is that it is only when you have bold, landmark legislation - like the academies bill that you see radical change. In Suffolk, where I live and am a Councillor, over half of our upper schools have 'stepped out' of LA control to become academies. This is because the centre has been very clear and strong about this. LAs themselves cannot stop them and when you take away the impediments it happens. The speed has been breathtaking. As a school governor I have seen it go from thought to reality in a few short month.

The same is not true in other parts of the public sector. Anyone else in the County Council has to go through the usual impedimentia and it is really still rather hard to spin out- even in a spin-out-friendly council. The academy experience tells us that it isn't the actual doing that is difficult, it is the organisational context stuff that is hardest. Most of the spin-outs I deal with tell us they spend tremendous energy dealing the organisations they are are part of, none of whom are compelled to let them go.

My point here is that in what is still a highly centralised country, legislative drive from the centre makes a massive difference. My fear about this new Open Public Services Bill is that it will not be the landmark White Paper it needs to be but a here-today-gone-tomorrow piece of candy-floss that keeps the sector happy but makes no real dent on the real challenge of public services transformation in this country.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Can the private sector save social enterprise?

MPs have published a report saying that the government's programme to create public service mutuals needs still stronger support and communication from central government if it is to build on its initial success. It also noted the government's hope that new public service mutuals will be created jointly with private sector partners.

The government is keen for these kinds of partnerships to develop because they bring in private capital to help set up, run and grow new public service business. Each of the "right to requests" from the NHS has cost the government tens of thousands of pounds to set up, so a strong private credit line is a tempting alternative to using public money.

Second, a private partner would bring commercial and practical help. Public sector spinouts tend to be led by passionate managers who can lack the experience to run a large enterprise, and who are expected on top of the day job to set up a new organisation from scratch. A private partner can provide all sorts of business start-up and growth knowhow.

And partnerships of this type would, potentially, expand the number and size of public service ventures. For all the hype, there are still only a small number of spun-out public sector businesses, and many employ fewer than 100 people. But the government wants to see a million public sector workers in mutuals by 2015, which means large organisations are going to have to be created at lightning speed. It is hoped the private sector can help achieve this.

But will the marriage between public manager and the private sector work?

One concern is the compatibility of each side's goals. So far, public sector mutuals tend to be more focused on social rather than commercial aims. Few appear to have share capital financially worth much to staff. They tend to be defined by a passion for people, place or profession, and they often aspire to stay local and be more personal. Every person I have met who leads a spun-out organisation is motivated by social purpose. They identify strongly with public sector values – albeit ones that see a mutual or social enterprise as the appropriate vehicle for this.

A private company, however, will, quite rightly, be mostly concerned with its shareholders' or directors' interests, and that will include a strong focus on growth, either by merger or acquisition and on cutting costs quickly.

These are legitimate goals, and, arguably, the only way to create large organisations. But you can see a potential tug-of-war here, with one side driven by a growth agenda and the other living in fear of becoming remote from its community – and of losing control to a private partner.

Can both sides meet at least somewhere in the middle, with private investors accepting the potential constraints on return introduced by being partly employee-owned and former public managers bowing to some of the commercial imperatives of investors?

As someone working every day alongside public managers, I hope we can find ways to bring necessary investment and expertise to the table. Unlike in continental Europe, this is unlikely to come from the state. So we need to examine closely how to do this while ensuring the values we hold close are upheld.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Why Social Enterprise Sector Needs to Get Off its Pulpit

In a brilliant piece for the Guardian's Social Enterprise Network, Rob Greenland recently pleaded for us to take a more nuanced view of profit. One which places it in an intelligent conversation about the right level of profit, rather than a binary one which pits 'for-profit' organisations against 'not-for-profit' ones.

This is where a lot of the talk in social enterprise finds itself. You are one or the other. For or against private profit. Like any binary approach it contrasts the good guys with the not-so-good, those 'in it for themselves' versus 'those in it for the common good'. If social enterprise were to have a 'national anthem' it would be Billy Bragg's (wonderful) 'Which Side Are You On'?

But this worldview misses important realities. Firstly, as Greenland points out, it forgets that profit is often the fair reward for risk or effort in the same way that wages are the fair reward for the week's work. If there's proportionality there - and in many businesses there is - profits are as just from an ethical point of view as salaries or any other benefits. Indeed, saying to risk-taking investors that they can't make a profit - as the sponsors of Social Business Day are- is, in my view, ethically questionable. If we don't ask people to work for nothing, neither should we expect there to be no price for risk.

Secondly there is enormous variety within the 'for profit' world. For every Southern Cross, there are ethically run businesses which, when you look at them closely, deliver the 'blended return' that many social enterprises themselves aspire towards: they care for their people, they contribute to their community and recycle profit to produce general social benefits.

Indeed, go back 40 years, before the rise of the City and global financial capitalism, and much of business, particularly in Europe, even in the USA, operated in this way (for a really good account of how US corporations operated, read 'The Puritan Gift' by Kenneth Hopper).

Thirdly, by throwing a ring around 'not-for-profit' activity, the social enterprise sector anchors itself needlessly to a very small base, leaving the rest of the private sector that doesn't behave like Southern Cross feeling left in the cold. This is a real waste. The most interesting space, in my view, is that which is emerging between the hard end of the private sector and the existing world of social enterprise. It involves some ambiguity, some risks and yes, occasionally, it allows charlatans into the tent.

But it is also the most fertile soil that is still virtually untilled. This is starting, thank-heavens. You see it most vividly in initiatives like Liam Black's Wavelength, where private and social businesses help each other, learn from each other and, yes, occasionally do business together as a result.

On a very minor level, you're seeing it with businesses like my own, Stepping Out. This is essentially a private business but 20% of all net profit goes into a new Foundation which is supporting emerging social entrepreneurs. About 10% of Stepping Out's time goes on pro or low-bono work. Stepping Out has a clearly social aim - to change the UK public sector by supporting public managers to become social entrepreneurs - which has equal standing with its other goals.

But my decision, after much agonising, was that I could best pursue this business as a private company rather than as a social enterprise, as currently defined. Why? - you ask. To begin with I had to borrow £25k to get going. This was secured against my own assets. Then I had to work for six months without pay - and work bloody hard too. One screwed-up project or bad debtor and I was dead in the water.

A year in, of the £250k we've brought in, I've personally seen £25k of it, the rest has gone on wages, paying back loans and so on. Well, not all the rest. There's a profit you see. We're not sure yet, but it could be as much as £40,000. Let's imagine it is. £8000 will go on tax, leaving £32,000. About half of that will need to stay on the balance sheet to support our cashflow in year 2. We're now down to £16,000. Up to £4000 will go into the Foundation, leaving, at the very top, £10,000 for the business owner (me). Were I to pocket this, my earnings for the year will top £30k.

OK, I own the business, I hear you say, but that's my point - I own the business. That's the only reward I am getting here. A fair reward, I venture. If the business was 'asset-locked', I couldn't benefit from its sale, its balance sheet would be mainly socialised. There would be big limits on how much I could take out of whatever profit was produced. My contention (or perhaps more accurately my wife's) was that this model was not fair (I won't use her term), except to say it rhymes with forelocks!). In other words, a just outcome for me meant pursuing social goals through a private business.

I relay this story not to show my social credentials. Although I would like you to approve of what I have done, I am not going to lose sleep if people throw rocks. Those that do this tend to be fairly insulated, normally salaried and seldom on the wrong side of risk. The reason I am sharing this now is to underline that there's a world of socially minded people just beyond the outer-edge of the social enterprise sector whose pursuit of profit is neither immoral, self-centred or exclusive.

This group of people believe in balanced businesses that concile a number of objectives - social and environmental - alongside the requirement for profit. At the moment, we are viewed, from the pulpit of social enterprise, as mere 'for-profits'. I think the time is nigh for a big rethink. If companies are giving away a lot of their profits, let's consider bringing them in. Likewise if they are proving their social and environmental impact.

Social enterprise needs to be about progressive business, a broad church, a bit, dare I say it, like the Labour Party which mixes Blairites with the disciples of Tony Benn. Social enterprise in 2011 feels a bit like the SWP, a sect which, in forging its own exclusivity, limits any impact whatsover on the world beyond its immediate membership.

I know there are lots of people like me who feel a deep attachment to the social enterprise agenda of blended return and shared ownership, but are uneasy about the ring of steel thrown around it by its founding organisations. I believe, over time, that risks will be taken and the ring of steel lifted. For me, it can't happen soon enough if a progressive business sector of any strength is going to emerge to take on the darker forces that dog a successful, fair capitalism.