Being in the Social Enterprise Development business, I’ve been reviewing the Open Public Services White Paper, since its launch on Monday. I’ve been very good and read through the 50 odd pages [well skim read]. I was hoping to gain some further detail of how it was all going to work and particularly how the social enterprise and voluntary and community sector could respond and seize the opportunities that it presents. So here is my take on the highlights and low lights I’ll let you decide on high and lowlights!
Much greater accountability and decision-making power down to an individual basis where possible (e.g. individual budgets), neighbourhood level where individual isn’t appropriate (e.g. local parks, leisure centre management), local authority level where neighbourhood isn’t possible (e.g. area regeneration], national where local authority level isn’t possible (e.g. policing). There is still a lot of consultation on how best to do this in certain sectors and areas of work, as you could imagine, so whilst we are seeing the tide turn it’ll be a while yet!
The paper talked at one point about ’tilting the playing field’ [which is a new one on me] this was after it had ‘levelled it’ [which is an old one]. No real indication of how but did talk about having at least 3 providers in particular services to enable competition and drive up quality, and targeting funding on people or areas that needed it most, quoting an interesting amount for example in Welfare to Work where as there is a maximum of £13,700 for the hardest to reach against a maximum of £3,800 for the easier to reach.
£10m being invested for public sector who want to follow the Right to Provide programme [Autumn 2011] and deliver public services better as mutuals, to put a robust business plan together, similar to the previous NHS Right to Request.
The commissioning section which is possibly the section that I thought would explain the most unfortunately fell short, but did flag up the welfare to work programme as being the way of the future i.e. payment by results. I’m in favour of quality services and payments for delivery, but there are some serious issues the current ‘prime contractor’ and payment by results model create for VCO’s and Social Enterprises [termed in the white paper by the way as VCSE sector]
The issue here of course for the sector as Ceri from SEC points out here is, there aren’t very many social enterprises or charities that can generate the capital [indeed the mean turnover according to the Right to Provide guidance published in March 11 is around £170k].
Social impact bonds are a possible answer, but are in their infancy. Take the [just launched] innovations expression of Interest for working with NEETs [young people not in employment training or education] the average cash you’ll need to risk on this per year is about £1m.
There was a mention of smaller contracts and the removal of the Pre qualification questionnaire for contracts under £100k so there is still opportunity here, but as I said earlier there’s not a lot of clarity or detail on how.
So I’m now going to be talking to people about how we [the SE sector] can raise sufficient investment / capital to take on some of these opportunities… What are you going to do? Comment and thoughts are welcome!