Social enterprise movement 'must make its support for employees clear'

Chi Onwurah MP tells summit that the perception of social enterprise has been 'distorted in certain quarters' and that the movement must build trust

Chi Onwurah MP
Chi Onwurah MP

The perception of social enterprise has been "distorted in certain quarters" because it is not seen as good for potential and existing employees, shadow social enterprise minister Chi Onwurah told an audience of social enterprise leaders yesterday.

Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, talking at a summit at Coin Street Community Builders in London yesterday, was answering a question about why trade unions often appeared opposed to the social enterprise movement. The summit was held to launch the Social Economy Alliance, an alliance of social enterprise bodies.

Trade unions have consistently opposed the transfer of public sector staff to social enterprises, particularly through the mutualisation of existing public sector bodies, because they are concerned about the effects on pay, conditions and benefits.

"The movement needs to build trust by making clear certain principles that it already holds, such as its support for the living wage," said Onwurah. "Social enterprises have a duty to act in the interest of their employees as key social stakeholders. That needs to come across more clearly."

Onwurah said that "the marketisation of the public sector" had been driven by the idea that the public sector was too remote from service users. But she said it had been replaced by contracting with "large companies that are equally remote" rather than bodies that are connected to service users and communities.

"Meanwhile, we have social enterprises that are right in the hearts of their communities," she said.

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