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Q&A with Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK

Ahead of our Effectively Implementing the Civil Society Strategy Forum on Wednesday 19th June, Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise UK shares some insight into the role of social enterprises in the strategy.


What does the Civil Society Strategy mean for social enterprises?

For most of our members, especially those who work in public sector and b2b markets, the Civil Society Strategy has a welcome emphasis on increasing the impact of social value legislation on commissioning of services and the procurement of goods. When government reinforces its commitment to social value in this way, we see positive market responses from both the public and private sectors. This is very helpful for social enterprises who exist to create social value as their primary purpose.

The diversity of businesses within our community is extensive, many require their primary government relationships to be beyond DCMS. The Civil Society Strategy achieved endorsement from many other government departments and that, in itself, is worthy of recognition. However, when you’re running a social enterprise, the reality is that the civil society strategy has little effect on you meeting your day to day challenges.


What role do you think social enterprises should have in delivering public initiatives?

Social enterprises around the world have demonstrated that working in this way is a highly effective way of achieving our shared ambitions for the future; they are a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable way of organising economic activity. Social enterprise is also a much more empowering, responsive and sustainable way of affecting social change than traditional models that can be overly dependent on philanthropy.


What are Social Enterprise Places and how do they help to build a more inclusive economy?

There are a number of de-industrialized towns, cities and whole regions in the UK that are using social enterprise as a driver for inclusive and sustainable growth. Many of these places have become accredited as Social Enterprise Places. These social enterprise communities are collaborative and are designed to draw on the collective resources of local government, the private sector and local businesses to drive a more enlightened way of working together to achieve some shared social ambitions. We have seen some remarkable achievements in places like Plymouth which has seen an increase in investment and social enterprise activity as a direct consequence of the programme and strong local leadership from our members.


Why is it important that local councils are working more closely with the VCSE sector when commissioning public services?

From a commissioning perspective, social enterprises are natural allies of local government and the NHS. We have shared ambition for our workers, our communities, our environment – and we have long term view of value creation. We’re not rushing around looking for fast buck, we are constituted to serve our communities and our stakeholders and to do so in a sustainable and accountable way. We are natural partners of the state at a local and national level.


What do you think the sector should be looking towards achieving in the next few years?

The sector needs to drive its visibility and awareness as a preferable and realistic alternative to more of the same ‘business as usual’. The days of pursuing a purely profit motive must surely be consigned to neo-liberal history. I believe that profit only business is incompatible in the face of the local and global challenges we face. A new generation of social businesses are taking root and many are successfully gaining market share with very imaginative and impactful business models. In the next decade we need to go from being viewed as an interesting complement to the current capitalist model to becoming its natural heir and successor. This is part evolution and part revolution.


To hear more from Peter, alongside other sector leaders such as Danny Kruger, Expert Advisor to the DCMS, Claire Dove, Crown Representative of the VCSE Sector and Elizabeth Chamberlain, Head of Public Policy and Services, NCVO, join us at our Effectively Implementing the Civil Society Strategy Forum to learn how to utilise the opportunities presented by the strategy.