Geof Cox's Blog

Not many jokes...

I asked a colleague recently if they liked my website - they thought for a bit before replying simply "Not many jokes" - so I thought I'd post this slide from my presentation at The Big Jump Conference yesterday, which some other colleagues found amusing...


NHS Social Enterprise Spin-outs - the real story

NHS Joke

I've posed the question elsewhere of whether the NHS Right to Request process actually led to ANY increase in the number of spin-outs to social enterprise – and not received a satisfactory answer.

Of course I know of a few cases claimed by the Right to Request process – my question is whether these, and possibly others, would have gone ahead, and maybe even been EASIER, without this 'support' intervention.  I certainly managed to keep one NHS externalisation last year out of the official process – which was completed very smoothly in just a few months thankyou very much.

Now I've just read the latest Third Sector Research Centre Working Paper on Social enterprise spin-outs from the English health service: a Right to Request but was anyone listening? by Robin Miller and Dr Ross Millar.   This should make uncomfortable reading for the NHS, and all those responsible for promoting the Right to Request.

Will tendering ever work for social enterprise?

I've been mulling over the stream of research findings over the last year or so around the way excessive public sector bureaucracy hampers the effective delivery of services – for example Professor Eileen Munro's recent finding that the safety of children is being compromised because social workers spend too much time on paperwork and targets.

I don't want to repeat here any of those Daily Mail kind of stories about the absurdity of some health and safety bureaucracy – though it is perhaps worth drawing attention to the government's recent attempt to get a sensible grip on all this through the Common Sense Common Safety report.

We all know about the inherent tendency of the public sector to get bogged down in bureaucracy.   It's hard to find anything new to say about it.  But one area in which social enterprise must keep on raising this issue is public sector tendering.

Learning from the Open Source Movement

A Guardian sub-editor garbled the final paragraphs of my latest guest blog there - but here's a corrected version...

I argued recently that a focus on a few kinds of social enterprise - those that happen to fit an official definition, or can be used to forward a government agenda - is blinding us to a much bigger picture.

Perhaps the most striking example of this is the surprising indifference of social enterprise to another great movement of our times: the open source software movement. Now I'm sure that many people reading the last sentence will be utterly bewildered. Open source software? that's just a specialist thing for computer geeks, isn't it? What has it got to do with our enterprise, or the social issues we're trying to address?

Well – lots!

I think of open source as the 'intellectual property wing' of social enterprise – and nobody should be under any illusion about the leading position that intellectual property - the knowledge and creative industries - now occupy in developed economies. Moreover, this particular 'wing' is probably globally the most successful aspect of social enterprise. About three quarters of the internet runs on open source software. But let me pick out just three inspirational areas:

The focus on a few kinds of social enterprise is blinding us to a bigger picture

I was recently invited to contribute a number of 'guest blogs' by The Guardian - this is the text of my first...

I was at a 'woman entrepreneur of the year' awards do the other night as a guest of the North East Social Enterprise Partnership. NESEP had sponsored the woman social entrepreneur category. Half-way through the presentations of the businesses short-listed for the other awards, the NESEP Chief Executive turned to me and said “It's amazing how many of these are really social enterprises.” It was true: many of these leading women entrepreneurs were talking about the social problems they had set out to address through their business, or the artistic quest that really motivated them, or the ethical values they placed at the heart of their work. In fact, although the contenders for the social entrepreneur award were all doing great things, it was quite hard sometimes to see the difference.

It seems to me there are quite a few such straws in the wind around social enterprise nowadays.

Such as Jonathan Jenkins' plea here in the Guardian Social Enterprise Network 'not to let the purists hold us back'.

The Guardian Social Enterprise Conference

I'm fresh from the Guardian Social Enterprise Conference where I was leading the 'clinic' on different forms of social enterprise / legal structures. Although tied up in the clinics most of the day I was amused in the opening plenary to hear one speaker contrast social enterprises and charities - and literally a minute later the next speaker almost opening with the words 'we are a social enterprise and a charity'. I've already shared my thoughts on this recently on the Guardian Social Enterprise Network - and also elsewhere on this website - so I won't repeat them here.

But there was another contrast that struck me in the Guardian plenary:while one speaker focussed on the importance of local action and local community control, others talked only about 'getting to scale' and working with big business.

Am I the only social enterpriser out there worried by the apparent thoughtlessness with which we slide around these perspectives?

Don't they relate in a very interesting way to a bigger political divide: that between the environmentalist and anti-globalisation 'small is beautiful' tradition and the old rightwing unlimited growth/freetrade orthodoxy?

What do social enterprise and chocolate have in common?

The failure of the school bus to turn up this morning and consequent need to drive my youngest in to school gave me the unexpected pleasure of a few minutes after 9 listening to Radio 4 - and hearing Deborah Cadbury talking about her latest book The Chocolate Wars.

In this discussion, in this particular history, there was much to learn about social enterprise.

Many know that the great names in English chocolate – Frys, Terrys, Cadburys and Rowntrees - were Quakers.  George Cadbury once worked for John Rowntree!  And many people in social enterprise know that Quakers have been crucial to its history too – Scott Bader for example.   But few are aware either of the extent of Quaker enterprise or the extent to which it was driven by Quaker / social enterprise principles: that wealth creation should fund social benefits, that fair trade is essential, that reckless debt is destructive.

These were the principles that once drove the growth of such household Quaker names as Barclays and Lloyds in banking, Clarks shoes, Wedgwood pottery, Bryant & May, Huntley & Palmer – not to mention Sony and Oxfam!

From Albania Again

Today in Tirana I chanced on the Commonwealth War Cemetery.  A surprise to find so old and intimate a link with home.  At random I read some of the near identical stones.

Sargeant G N Brookes   Pilot   Royal Air Force   7th November 1940   Age 24   In proud and loving memory of George, who made the supreme sacrifice.

Signalman D W Rockingham   Royal Signals   20th October 1943   Age 21   Always in our thoughts.

My own thoughts were taken by the loving mother and wife, who wrote 'sleep on dear one, until we meet again' – a mother no doubt already met, and a wife perhaps an elderly lady now, looking back on another life, perhaps another family.

Little children laugh and play on the grass beside the rows of graves.

Most moving perhaps though is the fact that these graves are still cared for, and fresh wreaths laid at the cemetery gates. By whom?

Yesterday the European Parliament voted to allow Albanians to travel to the EU without obtaining a visa. It's not the final decision, which presumably has to go to the Commission and Council of Ministers. But it was enough to make it a good day in the Oxfam office here.

I don't know how the British MEPs voted, but I would have challenged any of them to stand before these well tended graves of young British men dead these 70 years, then vote against Albanians.

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