Ever tried batting for the other side?

Earlier this week I was invited to speak at the government’s All Party Political Group on social enterprise. Also speaking was Helen Bailey, CEO of Local Partnerships, a fascinating organisation created by the Local Government Association and the treasury.

Helen very eloquently presented some of the challenges that get in the way of local authorities successfully procuring services from the growing social enterprise sector. Less money, fewer people, a rapidly fragmenting marketplace and less control over what they are statutorily required to fund is making it tough. I felt some sympathy for those career public servants, being squeezed between the proverbial rock and a hard place. But could I bat for their side?

Too many of the charities I work with see negotiating with local government for funding as a kind of David and Goliath battle. I spend a lot of my time helping charities and social enterprises grow in the face of sometimes seemingly random public spending cuts. Translating council targets into measurable social enterprise services is fast becoming my specialist subject. To continue the biblical metaphor, you could say I help folk learn to use their slingshot!

In reality both sides need help. To be specific, they need help to come to terms with the new order of things. It can be hard to recognise the landscape when it’s been changed for ever, swept by a tsunami or legislative and policy change. Both sides have little staff time for innovation and business development. Yet only by finding time to understand each other’s agenda better, can truly sustainable success result.

Often the charity team are worried about their future, even their jobs. Council employees too face similar fears and rightly so. You can sense the tension when outsourcing giants such as Serco are running their eye over long established council infrastructure. The last thing people need is for your social enterprise or charity to over promise and fail to deliver. It’s not just your head that’s resting on the block; they’re right beside you, staring into the same bloodstained basket and waiting for the axe.

So as with most things, funding battles are not clear cut. You might not want to try batting for the other side, but do take the trouble to view the challenge from both ends of the wicket. The solution is there somewhere, but probably not where you first thought!

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Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur, best selling business author and increasingly a Big Society troubleshooter.

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1 Comment

  • Matthew Jackson

    Agree completely with all of this Robert. Two things to add. Social Enterprises need to work closer together to demonstrate to local authorites what their offer is for service delivery. If this is as part of a consortia then so be it. Local government procurers need to get a better grip of what can be achieved through the procurement process in terms of social value; instead of bowing to EU law as an excuse at the earliest juncture. The whole culture of procurement on both sides needs to change if its benefit is to be maximised

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