A senior figure in the West Midlands social enterprise sector claims thousands of jobs could be saved if local authorities looked at new ways of delivering essential community services.
Councils are considering plans to reduce their spending including by cutting up to 170,000 public sector jobs in anticipation of a dramatic downturn in their budgets – including about 2,000 in Birmingham.
Kevin Maton, chief executive of Social Enterprise West Midlands (SEWM), said the region possesses the necessary skills and business support network to encourage existing council staff to start social enterprises as a way of providing local services.
Mr Maton believes that tighter budgets could be maximised by transferring experienced employees into new social enterprises that offer a governance model that reports directly to the local community.
He points to Halo Leisure as a prime example of how it could work, with the organisation taking over sports and leisure facilities in Herefordshire when the council was no longer able to prioritise funding for these services.
Seven years on and it commands a turnover of nearly £6.5 million and employs almost 400 people.
He said: “I suspect the funding crisis in public services will get worse, but here is an alternative approach that will hopefully reduce the number of job cuts whilst maintaining essential services.
“Social enterprises are overseen through community governance structures that ensure they are focused both on quality, delivery and meeting the needs of the local area.
“By their very nature, these businesses will be innovative and will combine proven track records with innovative thinking to actually improve services including social care, youth activities and leisure facilities for example.”
SEWM is the regional body responsible for championing the sector and currently boasts over 400 members.
Its work includes setting up networks and would play a part in building up capacity if more social enterprises were established in the region.
It recently launched ‘The Time is Now’, the new vision and prospectus for the sector, which calls for greater understanding, innovation and support.
The publication aims to galvanise everyone who operates in this arena from the social entrepreneurs who make it happen, to the consumer who benefits, investors that lend, the public sector who procure services and business support agencies who are there to facilitate growth.
Mr Maton said: “The skills to make this happen are available within the West Midlands, but they need to be co-ordinated to focus on this policy area and there would also need to be additional investment to pay for business support and advice in the early stages so we can demonstrate it works successfully. This confidence will be crucial in developing understanding that social enterprises can deliver quality public services.”