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Social Enterprises

Volume 457: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2007

3. What discussions she has had on encouraging participation in co-operatives and social enterprise initiatives. (125520)

In November 2006, the Government launched a social enterprise action plan to support the work of social enterprises and co-ops, both as ethical businesses in the private sector and as partners delivering public services. Key parts of the plan included a higher profile for social enterprise in the school curriculum, improved advice and finance for social enterprises starting up, and greater access to finance to support their work.

The ABLE partnership in my constituency is funded by the green business network, Wakefield primary care trust and the social care charity Turning Point. The partnership is transforming 100 acres of brownfield site donated by Yorkshire Water into a hazel coppice and a fish farm which, in three years’ time, will produce Wakefield’s first caviar. Will the Minister join me on a visit to the environmentally sustainable transformation achieved by that social partnership, which demonstrates how Wakefield is leading the way in social enterprise?

I look forward to joining my hon. Friend in tasting Wakefield caviar; I am sure that it will be a great experience. She is right about the great work that social enterprises do in reaching out to the most excluded people in our society. The key is that the state should continue to fund public services adequately, and not use social enterprises as an excuse to abdicate its responsibility in that regard. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, we support the work of social enterprises in deed as well as in word, and that is why it was so regrettable that the Opposition voted against the Offender Management Bill last week.

Surely local government also has a big role to play in developing social enterprise, so has my hon. Friend considered how best to encourage it to play its full part in that agenda?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Much of the income for the third sector comes from local government. The key thing is culture change on the ground, so that commissioners understand the role that social enterprises can play. We see that in waste and recycling, for example, where we want councils not just to go for the conventional private sector option but to understand the contribution that third sector and social enterprise organisations can make. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, our programme for training 2,000 commissioners is so important, because that will achieve the culture change on the ground that we need.

Coming from Rochdale, I would much rather the Minister used the word “co-operative”. What is he doing to support credit unions? I commend to him the work of the Rochdale credit union, Streetcred, which in the light of the Farepak collapse has in the past few weeks launched a Christmas savings scheme. Does he think that there is a role for such groups in helping people to save?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the role played by credit unions, which I, too, see in my constituency. The Treasury is conducting a review of the co-operative sector, which has been called for over a long period and will include the work of credit unions, to consider how the structure can be reformed to the advantage of co-ops and credit unions. Many of the most successful social enterprises are themselves co-ops, so our general work to support social enterprises will help co-ops, too.

In my constituency, a number of social enterprises are run by tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster. When will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster embrace her other role as guardian of the tenants and of the land she holds on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and visit those tenants and social enterprises, instead of skulking away in Downing street?

Regrettably, I am not in charge of my right hon. Friend’s diary, but I know that she has visited many tenant farmers and others, such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I am sure that she has heard his request and will give it the consideration that it deserves.