'Toolkit' to open up contract bids

The Government is to develop a set of guidelines to help social enterprises bid for contracts as part of an expansion of their public-service role, it was announced yesterday.

The new "toolkit" will offer advice to enterprises such as recycling organisations and childcare businesses to help them compete with private- and public-sector providers when bidding for contracts from local authorities.

The move was announced on Monday as part of the Department of Trade and Industry's Social Enterprise Strategy. The strategy commits the Government "to work to increase involvement of social enterprise in public service delivery and reform".

It will also work with public-sector bodies to promote a greater understanding of the value of social enterprise. The social enterprise sector includes the trading subsidiaries of charities as well as independent businesses working for a social purpose.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt said: "This strategy will enable existing social enterprises to flourish and ensure advice and support is at hand for new social enterprise ventures getting off the ground."

David Carrington, independent charity consultant and a member of the Social Investment Taskforce, which in its October 2000 report called for more support for the social enterprise sector, said it was significant that the Government wanted to open up public services to profit-making social enterprises as well as traditional voluntary organisations. "The recognition that an agency providing services paid for by public funds can be a social enterprise is an important step. They are not just about retail but also the delivery of public services," he said.

The strategy also emphasises the importance of social enterprises moving away from grant dependency towards self-financing. The Bank of England has agreed to review the provision of debt and equity finance available to social enterprises from mainstream banks, venture capitalists and community development finance institutions.

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