Posted by:7 May, 2012
On 15 March, the Department of Health issued a paper on top tips for establishing a healthcare social enterprise. It was a reflection following the establishment of more than 40 social enterprises providing around 10 per cent of community services across the country. The paper, designed to help staff who are currently progressing in social enterprise – or considering doing so, is based on a discussion with five leaders within different social enterprises. One of the leaders interviewed, Chris Tully, Managing Director of Ripplez, stated that their success has been in part due to the extensive preparation and planning they undertook in developing their business case.
Particularly interestingly, Chris highlighted the importance of thoroughly researching your market and also talking to commissioners to gain their perspectives and insights. This insight, regarding the importance of information gathering and understanding the market, is collaborated from things we are seeing in the office, in doing the day-job and supporting social enterprises. Two examples come to mind which should help social enterprises wishing to win new business realise the importance of understanding where your commissioners are coming from and obtaining vital local information from them. The first is related to the impact of a commissioner in a Roundtable we ran on membership, engagement and democratic governance; the second, how information gathering was achieved by an organisation that wanted to win business which was outside of its normal area.
A commissioner’s perspective on a social enterprise’s business approach
In that recent Roundtable at the office of Bruce Woodcock, a senior business development manager at Essex County Council, we looked at the concept of the intrinsic link between cash payments and market development and enabling enlightened suppliers, such as SEs, to offer product choice and control to their customers, and the development of individual service accounts potentially bringing health and social care money together for people with long term conditions. Bruce argued that these developments are a natural progression and that they help to deliver efficient and effective service delivery and one that empowers its users.
There is a clear message coming from commissioners for the benefit of social enterprises. Therefore, it is no good breaking out from the public sector and believing that a social enterprise formulation of itself is a panacea for everything – this includes automatically winning new business. It is vital that social enterprises get much smarter, more innovative and flexible about what they do and how they do it. Bruce’s point was that social enterprises need to develop their customer base, membership, brand loyalty and products and indeed, it is these which will be critical to secure market utilisation and ultimately, survival.
Commissioners can have a legal duty to consult with the public about service change. In practice this means that options must be put to the public, views sought out and commissioners open to objections being made to proposals and/or to other plans being put forward. In such a situation, if providers need local information they could, for example, attend the public consultation meetings to obtain information. However, social enterprises could go further. They could encourage the commissioners to engage with them and with potential providers, which would, in theory, be outside the scope of the commissioner’s legal duty of public consultation. Therefore, providers could actively contact the commissioners to ask them to put together a meeting or forum (pre-tender) which would give the opportunity to all prospective providers to discuss the current issues with the services - and the proposals for the future. Quite often commissioners will, in any event, be envisaging an on-going process of involvement which will continue throughout the entirety of a re-commissioning process which is separate to the legal requirement to consult the public. Thereby, requests for a forum for prospective providers could form part of this ‘on-going involvement’.
To conclude, commissioners have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting clinical leaders, and to help drive change and innovation in service provision. Commissioners should be looking for ways to refine and improve what they do, including engaging with providers to work out how best to deliver the services that meet the health and social care needs (and challenges) of the future. Social enterprises should be using these drivers to learn about the local conditions and if commissioners do not organise a forum of sorts for providers, they may be persuaded to take questions on key clinical information that is important for prospective providers to know. Finally, there is always the possibility of using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information…
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