Skip to main content

Social Finance

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

I am proud that Britain leads the world in developing social investment. The hon. Gentleman is a tireless champion of its power to support early intervention. A new tax relief has gone live this month. There are now 15 social impact bonds in operation. I hope that he will welcome our announcement today of two more funds to support social impact bonds, which we believe will generate better outcomes for young people who are at risk of not being in education, employment or training.

There is an important judgment from the European Court of Justice today on the Robin Hood tax, which will have a big influence on civil society and the big society. However, that will be minuscule compared with the potential impact of a serious social impact bond market on early intervention, which the Minister mentioned, and on council projects. It is two years since Big Society Capital was established, so is it not time to review the working of the Act that set it up to see whether we can take it further?

I am very proud of Big Society Capital as an institution. I have seen the impact that its investments are having on the ground. It has committed £149 million and has done important work to build this important market. It is just two years in and is about to publish its second annual report. We are always looking to ensure that it succeeds. I am more than happy to pass that question on to the Big Society Trust, which is its governing body, and get its response.

Are not credit unions a great example of social finance, and is it good news that there are now 500 of them in this country, not least a new one in Plymstock in my constituency? More than 1 million Brits are now members of a credit union. Are the Government pleased about that?

Credit unions are an enormously important part of the landscape in communities around the country, and many do extraordinarily valuable work. We are looking at the degree to which we can support their capitalisation. They are fragmented and under-capitalised, and we are discussing with Big Society Capital, and others, what ideas are out there for using the power of social investment to strengthen the capitalisation of that important movement.

I was the Minister who got going the first social impact bond at Peterborough. Would the Minister like to say what the experience of that first experiment has been?

I wholly acknowledge the role that the right hon. Gentleman played in that groundbreaking social impact bond at Peterborough. Its early results are extremely encouraging, and reoffending among short-sentence prisoners who receive support through the bond has fallen by 11%, while nationally that figure has risen by 10%. It was the first ice-breaking social impact bond, and I think its impact on the wider movement and the work happening across the country, with at least 15 social impact bonds live, cannot be overestimated.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we all need to do more to make voluntary organisations and charities aware of the benefits of the growing social investment market of Big Society Capital, and of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012?

I wholly agree and I am clear about what we are trying to do. Over time—it will take some time—we are trying to build a third pillar of funding for our social sector to sit alongside philanthropy and the public sector, and we lead the world in doing that. The Public Services (Social Value) Act was groundbreaking legislation that requires commissioners to think very seriously about how they can maximise the social and environmental benefit of every pound of public money they spend.