We must have a clear definition, says Social Enterprise Coalition

Chief Executive Peter Holbrook says social enterprise should not be used as a cover for privatisation

Peter Holbrook
Peter Holbrook

The Social Enterprise Coalition has called for a clear definition of social enterprise to prevent the movement being used to disguise the privatisation of public services.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of the coalition, was speaking in response to research showing that almost 90 per cent of businesses included in an official government measure of social enterprises did not meet the coalition’s definition.

The report, from the Third Sector Research Centre, suggested that most of the 62,000 organisations designated as social enterprises under the definition used by the Office for Civil Society lacked an asset lock preventing the sale of the business to a profit-making company.

It said most of them and would not qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark, the coalition-backed quality mark that shows a business is a social enterprise.

Holbrook said it was important social enterprises met "clearly agreed parameters" and suggested that organisations spun out of government departments might not meet those requirements.

"There is a risk that resulting from cuts we will see the creation of spin-off organisations from public services that are not social enterprises, which could be vulnerable to buy-outs from the public sector," he said.

"The predicted massive growth of the social enterprise sector in the coming years will demand a much stronger identity and infrastructure.

"The Social Enterprise Mark shows that an organisation is a true social enterprise."

In July, health secretary Andrew Lansley said that he felt foundation trusts qualified as social enterprises, and questioned whether the "narrow" definition of social enterprise favoured by the coalition was correct.

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