Clause 2 - Local authority strategies

Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 19th October 2011.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

Again, it would be helpful if the Minister clarified why such a modest proposal to require local authorities to produce a sustainable community strategy cannot be taken on board by the Government. He has tabled a series of amendments to the requirement on local authorities to put together a sustainable community strategy, but in his response to the debate on clause 1, he did not explain what has changed since he introduced his private Member’s Bill, which, in the words of the hon. Member for Wycombe, established a burden on the Government to produce strategies. Why should things be different for this Bill?

In part, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington is seeking to address the concern that, although some local authorities have a positive attitude and a real enthusiasm for promoting social enterprises, in practice, without a legislative requirement to consider the implications of supporting social enterprises, other local authorities would not have such an attitude and enthusiasm.

I want to take the opportunity to praise the contribution of a series of Co-op councils and Labour administrations committed to a co-operative and social enterprise vision for seeking to champion and promote social enterprise development in their areas. The requirement proposed by the Bill would help to strengthen the arm of such Labour and Co-op councils and encourage other local authorities to step up their efforts to emulate that work.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The essence of my argument on clause 2 is the same as my argument on clause 1. Although the goal is desirable, we see no need to legislate. We want as many local authorities as possible to seize the opportunity to engage with social enterprises as part of the solution to some of the problems and challenges that we all face in the current resource-restrained environment. As the hon. Gentleman has said, a number of councils get that and are doing it well.

The challenge—this is our preferred route—is to identify best practice and inspirational leadership, to build the evidence on how an innovative approach to working with social enterprises delivers better results for service users and the taxpayer and to spread that through the system, rather than deluding ourselves that imposing a new duty on local authorities will be transformative. We are looking for inspirational leadership and genuinely to persuade people of a course of action. From direct experience, I do not think that it helps simply to prepare another glossy strategy document that will sit on a shelf. Such a document may be something of a cop-out, and we can do better than that.

The hon. Gentleman cites the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, of which I am extremely proud, but he is wrong about what it seeks to achieve. Its premise is that local people know best and should have more opportunities to present their ideas about things that should change in their areas. It places a greater requirement on central Government to change their attitude and to create space for such ideas to be heard. We started that process, which has effectively resulted in the bureaucracy-busting service at the Department for Communities and  Local Government. Several hundred communities have taken advantage of that service. The only requirement imposed on local authorities that decide to take part—there is no obligation for them to do so—is that when proposing an idea for consideration by the Department, they should show that they have effectively consulted their communities and that the idea is representative.

During the passage of the 2007 Act, we struck the right balance between placing requirements on central Government and establishing local freedom and power. I do not think there are any points of comparison. The central point is whether we need to legislate to impose a duty on local authorities to publish social enterprise strategies, and we do not believe that a case has been made for that. We would much prefer to work with the leaders and the people who are showing best practice to inspire the rest of the network to understand that social enterprises can be an incredibly important part of the solution.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 2 disagreed to.