HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc986-7
4. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

What plans she has to support social enterprises in the UK. [58219]

The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms)

We are preparing a Government strategy for social enterprise at the moment. We want an environment in which social enterprises flourish, because of their benefits in boosting productivity and competitiveness, in contributing to the regeneration of communities and in developing new ways of delivering public services.

Mr. Challen

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I congratulate the Government on setting up the national social enterprise unit, which is a great initiative. I want to tackle the issue at a local level and have us focus on what happens on, say, council estates, many of which were designed in the 1960s and 1970s with no provision for the possibility of enterprise. They consist of just housing and perhaps one pub, one chippy and one shop.

We need to consider how we can build the capacity of local populations. I want the Government to consider how joined-up thinking might help local people create accredited community safety schemes in the social enterprise arena. In considering capacity-building structures, we ought to look at places such as west Yorkshire where, for example, there is no co-operative development agency for local people to consult.

Mr. Timms

My hon. Friend makes some important points. Our aim is for enterprise to be centre stage in community regeneration in every part of the country, particularly in some of the areas with the characteristics that he describes. We want in every area a sustainable base for business and jobs in order to provide income and services for people locally. We see social enterprises alongside conventional enterprises as key to bringing communities out of decline. That will be at the heart of our social enterprise strategy, which will be published in the summer. A wide cross-section of the social enterprise sector has been involved in working on that.

I agree with my hon. Friend about increasing capacity through community development finance intermediaries, and of course the community investment tax credit in the Budget will be helpful in achieving that.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that post offices are a very good example of social enterprises benefiting the local community? Will he assure me that the announcement this morning by Allan Leighton—now, I am pleased to say, of Royal Mail—will not lead to further closures of post offices in rural areas and market towns?

Mr. Timms

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of post offices in rural areas. We have made it clear that we are absolutely committed to the postal network. Post offices provide a lifeline in many of the communities to which she refers. That is why we placed a formal requirement on the Post Office to maintain the rural network and to prevent avoidable closures. That is not affected in any way by the announcement this morning. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have more to say about the Post Office in a few minutes.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

I recently visited three businesses in Aberdeen—Printability, Turning Point and Square One—which have adopted the social enterprise model to deliver work placements for people with mental health problems. I was very impressed by what I saw. It should be a model for the future as it not only provides a supportive work environment but keeps people out of hospital, gives them an important role in society and eases them back into work. What help can the Government give to such enterprises to ensure the provision of that valuable work and that the schemes fit the model of welfare to work for disabled people put forward by the Department for Work and Pensions?

Mr. Timms

My hon. Friend describes an excellent example of exactly what we want to encourage with the social enterprise strategy, which will be published in the summer. We are taking a range of measures to encourage such enterprise. As she says, the benefits are in providing employment opportunities and in delivering services to local communities, often where those services are not available otherwise. That will be the aim at the heart of the strategy. I draw her attention to the community investment tax credit, which will be a big help in that regard, although there will be a number of other measures in the strategy. I would be interested to know more about the example in her area.