Dear Mrs May
I would like to thank Mrs May for hosting and chairing our meeting on Monday. It was a pleasure to be sitting in the Cabinet Room rather than down the corridor in a dark cupboard where social enterprises are often lodged! Thank you to Lord Bird for instigating the meeting and using all his Irish charm and passion for making things happen. I have a great respect for my fellow countryman.
The meeting was organised because the Prime Minister wanted to see examples of how we do business differently and our contribution to the country's infrastructure both logistical and social. She wanted to look at how large social enterprises survive and thrive and why there is also a need for smaller local social business which often do a lot of the behind the scenes, quietly creating a social glue through community engagement.
For those of you who are uncertain as to what a social enterprise does; we are commercially run, profit making business that are driven by social aims. Profits are reinvested into social, community and environmental objectives. Compare us to the bosses of our largest companies who take home 242 times more than the minimum wage worker, 108 times more than a nurse, 91 times more than a teacher, 84 times more than a police officer and 197 times more than a care worker. They also get paid far more than the Prime Minister, which astonishes me.
We all agree that Mrs May is a busy woman, when we arrived for the meeting, she was still in North London announcing £20 billion for the NHS. She then sped through the traffic (in a car not a Southern train) to meet us. If she had given the NHS £19 billion and added the last billion to the childcare funding she would have solved the funding crisis in an instance. I did not say this as I am sure it may not have gone down well!
The meeting was open and friendly but we did reference the issues of inequality. We live in a world where 1,000 of the richest people own 40 per cent of the assets. The gap between the rich and poor is widening and those of us working with the youngest children see the impact of poverty very clearly.
One in four children in London live in poverty. Statistics suggest they will get lower GCSE grades, have a harder time finding a job, earn less and die younger, due to nothing else other than the circumstances into which they were born. They are also twice as likely to be obese with all the attendant health, economic and social implications. In other words, inequality harms our physical and mental health, hinders our education, damages our economy, restricts social mobility, reduces levels of trust and civic participation and weakens the social ties that bind us.
We had an hour of the Prime Minister's time that translated into about three to four minutes each to pitch our ideas from two standpoints: what each social enterprise sector needs to support them and how we can help the Government. In essence the asks were summed up as:
Please Prime Minister:
- Champion the social enterprise model as a central part of public services delivery not a separate add on for special circumstances.
- Strengthen the implementation of the Social Value Act and remove its Cinderella status and make it the belle of the ball.
- Examine how social enterprise can form Procurement Consortia.
- Help small community housing providers to access finance and business support.
- Conduct some research to identify all childcare organisations that define themselves as social enterprises and find common denominators in terms of structure, business model, pedagogy, staffing approach and social impact.
- I asked that Early Years and nurseries were given a central role in the up and coming obesity strategy. Sadly, that was too late as the obesity strategy was released on Sunday and it failed to mention nurseries and the power we have to drive change by early intervention.
The Prime Ministers closing words were positive and clear:
- We are here to work with you.
- We will follow up on your ideas.
- Keep engaging with DCMS.
- Support for social enterprise to enable you to do more - we know you create more value and impact - beyond your core mission of housing or child care.
- Encourage Local Authorities to value social enterprise.
- Support for small scale contracts.
- Consortia idea - we will look at how to do this.
So thank you Mrs May. I hope our visit provided a light in the Brexit gloom. We have sympathy with the challenge to hold your disparate team to account. Shame there isn't any performance management in place for unruly politicians who complain loudly but have no sensible solutions. I remember suggesting this to a previous Secretary of State whose junior Minister was allowed to make decisions which crippled early years for a long time… But that's another story altogether!
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website