The Guardian Social Enterprise Award 2011

So I check my twitter this morning and The Guardian’s Social Enterprise people are running The Guardian Social Enterprise Award.

Nice one. It’s great to see The Guardian putting time and resources into their social enterprise content and a new award.

I run SPACE Blackpool CIC so am interested in entering but also want to see an improved understanding of what a social enterprise is across the media. So it is as they say a win/win type scenario. Or so I thought.

Oh crap!

Here are the published entry requirements:

Entrants must meet the following criteria:

– The award is open to residents of the UK aged 18 (on or before 22   August 2011) and over

– The entry must come from the founder, co-founder, managing director or   chief executive of the enterprise

– Enterprises wishing to enter should have a turnover in excess of £200K   and or will have raised £200k plus via equity or loans.  If you have   secured significant contracts this may also enable you to qualify for   entry

– Businesses entering the awards should employ between 3-500 staff

– If you’re working in collaboration with another enterprise we will accept   joint entries

The judges are looking for projects that aim to improve services for communities, and working more effectively with health and public, voluntary and private sectors.

So what’s wrong with that?

Two things in my opinion:

Firstly, the turnover threshold of £200k. Why have one? Could it not be that a social enterprise turning over £50k has a brilliant and sustainable idea that would change lives if it won a prestigious award?

Secondly, the same old presumption that bidding for contracts with the public sector is the be all and end all of what a socent does. This is just not getting it to me.

Bidding for contracts

I could write pages about this but in brief here are some of the questions I ask myself when I decide not to look at bidding for contracts locally.

Why would I want to bid for contracts to deliver services in a way I believe hasn’t worked? Having watched and tried to engage with the public sector for 5 years now I have seen the good times. I have watched money get hurled around on one off events and unsustainable, badly designed “schemes” and “projects.” Often, they just seem to work for the people employed within the public and quasi-public bodies concerned and their political, PR or empire building objectives.

Why would I give our ideas and expertise to a public body that in the past has just nicked them, spent alot of public money without even considering if they have a clue what they are doing and then unsurprisingly, delivered little? It is like they think public money is to just be spent once, on something nice. They say woohoo aren’t we clever, put a piece in the local rag then move on to another bidding opportunity for central government money.

That’s a bit negative

That sounds like I am narky about this. Well that’s because I am bloody fuming to be honest. Raging about the way this so called “social enterprise friendly” public sector is working now.

Do I need to become an expert bidder for public money to be successful? Or wouldn’t it be better if the public sector saw socents like us as being a resource that will make innovative things happen. They should give us buildings that are empty, co-bid with us to central government on sustainable business models not one offs. They should see that the young people we engage with could be the very ones that make a change in the health choices and life aspirations of many of their friends too.

Most socents doff their caps to their public sector purse holders and end up delivering the same old crap that hasn’t worked. I would like to see that change. I want socents to be emboldened by a central government that revolutionises the delivery of health and social services. To make business plans that don’t need hand outs and to try to get the public sector to engage properly not just throw out contracts for services when they find they haven’t got any money left.

Positive stuff

At the weekend SPACE Music along with Visit Blackpool put on an event in the newly tarted up St. John’s Square in Blackpool. A huge thank you to the people from Visit Blackpool. They worked with us to deliver something that we can replicate again and again relatively inexpensively. Offering opportunities for work experience, volunteering and to promote artists music in the centre of Blackpool. It improved traffic to the square and created a really nice atmosphere in a town that sometimes on a Saturday afternoon can be er… interesting. Pictures to follow soon.

We now hope we can move inside The Winter Gardens and make some sustainable events happen for young people there too.

Locally more people within the council are getting this and I sense a thawing of the old public sector mentality. As soon as the decision makers and councillors get to understand that socents do more than just deliver the services they want delivering we will have made progress.

Central government has a huge part to play though now. When we return to long waited growth in the economy and the belt tightening slackens ever so slightly… then will be the test and the time to let us social enterprises really deliver some sustainable youth and other services.

Thanks for reading.

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