CROYDON COMMENTARY: Are impoverished local authorities clinging to “social enterprise” to cover-up reductions in public services? DAVID WHITE says that there is a risk that they do
Yesterday was “Social Saturday”, designed to promote “social enterprises”. These are businesses which have a social or environmental objective and are not just profit-making organisations.
Social Saturday was a national event but Croydon has been particularly involved as it is the first accredited “social enterprise borough” in London.
To mark this, an event was held at Rise Gallery in St George’s Walk, attended by a number of local, mainly small, businesses and by the owner of Rise Gallery, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison and representatives of Social Enterprise UK. Speeches were made by, among others, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, and Tony Newman, the Labour leader of Croydon council.
“Proud to be the leader of London’s first social enterprise borough,” Newman said. “Social enterprises are re-energising the economy, changing the mindsets of how the public and private sector think.”
While social enterprises are to be welcomed, I think they can only be part of the picture. We also need to maintain and strengthen public services, which are democratically accountable.
Social enterprises must not become a back-door to further privatisation. We have a Government which is cutting local authority spending (wrongly in my view). It would be wrong for local councils to react to this by saying, for example, that arts and culture can be cut because private enterprise is providing it.
It is not an advance if we have lots of private arts and culture providers but Croydon Council has to sell off part of its cultural heritage, as the last Tory administration in Croydon did with the best parts of its Riesco Chinese porcelain collection. Similarly it is not in the public interest if private art collections flourish but our wonderful public art galleries, like the National Gallery or the Tate, are starved of funds or have to start charging for entry.
So let’s support social enterprises and give them preference when we spend our money as consumers. But keep the public realm strong as well, and ensure that all enterprises, big and small, pay their fair share of taxes so that we also have good public provision of services.
- David White is Secretary of Croydon Central Labour Party
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