A Labour government should train public sector commissioners to help boost awareness and understanding of social investment, according to Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society.
Speaking yesterday at a fringe event about social investment hosted by the charity chief executives body Acevo at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, Nandy said the party had learned from its public consultation on the future of the charity sector that awareness of social investment was low among commissioners, and this was causing difficulties for bidding organisations that ran projects funded in this way.
She said that through the consultation, which closed last week, a number of organisations had asked for contracts to be made more social investment-friendly and called for greater recognition of joint bids backed by social investment.
"What people have told us is that these things are largely invisible to commissioners, so there’s a real role for government, national and local, to train up the people who are commissioning the services, to make them understand this market much better," said Nandy.
For social investment to function effectively, she said, it needed to be supported through the Cabinet Office and through other government departments and local government to ensure that social investors were not excluded from bidding for contracts.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, who was also speaking at the event, said that a Labour government could increase support for social investment by introducing Gift Aid-style tax relief for investors, improving compliance processes and making social investment products more accessible to the general public.
Alex Sobel, general manager of Social Enterprise Yorkshire and the Humber and a Labour candidate for Leeds North West, called for a Community Reinvestment Act, modelled on the US equivalent, which would enable the provision of financing for people and organisations in areas where high-street banks do not operate.
He said a Labour government could throw its weight behind blended credit – whereby projects are supported by a mix of investment capital and grant funding – which could be operated from the Cabinet Office. He said a universal support service for social enterprises could be created to give organisations advice on how to establish themselves and where finance could be accessed.