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Government under fire for failing to take civil society seriously

The chief executive of Social Enterprise UK has criticised the culture secretary Matt Hancock for failing to recognise the potential of social enterprise.

Peter Holbrook was responding to a speech given by Matt Hancock (pictured) earlier this week, in which the culture said the Social Value Act had not delivered on its ‘revolutionary promise’.

In the speech, the culture secretary also said he wanted to see more public services delivered by local groups.

‘I don’t think we spend nearly enough on the small or local organisations – whether for or not-for profit – which are often the best people to deliver a local service,” said Mr Hancock in his speech.

‘Something is seriously amiss when in some markets 60 per cent of public procurement goes to just five huge companies.

‘I want to see a far more plural supply of public services – with a lot more mutuals and other value-adding innovations.

‘In this context we are investing in a great expansion of social impact bonds, and also exploring how to ensure the Social Value Act to deliver on its revolutionary promise, which has not nearly been met yet,’ added Mr Hancock.

He added conversations are underway between various Whitehall departments to coordinate the different funding streams, which flow ‘directly into local places’.

But responding to the speech, Mr Holbrook said the Government needs to bring back a ‘Cameronian-era zeal for social enterprise’ and take civil society more seriously.

‘Today’s speech by Matt Hancock, whilst delivered with panache, is more of the same from a Government that is increasingly looking bereft of good ideas,’ he added.

‘Whilst we welcome the secretary of state’s recognition of the latent power of the Social Value Act to transform procurement and breathe new life into communities left behind; the overall narrative is more or less the same as it has always been – an overemphasis on social impact bonds and a lack of ambition when it comes to the potential of social enterprise.

‘When in opposition there was a real desire within the Conservative Party to embrace social enterprise – seeing within it the tools with which to build a fairer economy.

‘The publication ‘A Stronger Society – Voluntary Action in the 21st Century’, now seemingly no longer available in the party archive, talked of government being “driven by a vibrant civil society” and the creation of a “powerful office for civil society at the heart of government.” Since then we have had the Lobbying Act, a move to DCMS, and been told to “stick to the knitting”,’ added Mr Holbrook.

Earlier this month, the head of the Cordant Group called for public sector contracts to be awarded to ‘social business’ companies that agree to share profits with staff and employ local workers.

In a new paper published by the think-tank Social Market Foundation, Phillip Ullmann said the law should be changed so such contracts are awarded on the basis of “social value” and not just to the cheapest bidder.

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