Social enterprise versus Public service – a force for good?

By Ed Saunders

There has been much talk of late, about the ability of social enterprises to provide services for the public sector. This discussion has been most noticeably focussed on the provision of healthcare services, and many leading politicians have been vocal in their support for social enterprises being contracted by the NHS and local health authorities.

The Department of Health’s website states that “the Government is committed to giving public sector workers new rights to provide services as employee-owned mutuals and bid to take over the services they deliver.”

Last October, in Bath, the local health authority created a new healthcare social enterprise, ‘Sirona’ by carving away part of the NHS, including 41 separate business units. The new social enterprise initially caused some consternation amongst staff. One commented “I’ve gone through a kind of mourning process. You go through a period of thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m going to leave this organisation that I’ve been part of for so many years.” Yet eight months down the line, the social enterprise is on track financially, evidence showing savings for the taxpayer, and staff are more accustomed to their roles, expressing their approval of the increased efficiency of the body.

The issue divides opinion, especially among healthcare professionals, who appear to be motivated by providing a public service; a concept that they feel distanced from if working for a social enterprise, and not directly for the state.

Should the public sector have a monopoly over the provision of public services? Is it fair to force NHS professionals to leave the NHS and work for social enterprises? Get in touch; we would love to hear your thoughts.

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