Claire Dove, who was announced as the crown representative for the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector on Monday, said she had been “frustrated with the Social Value Act” in her first public appearance since taking the role.
Speaking on a panel at Social Enterprise UK’s Social Value Summit in London on Wednesday, Dove said her role would be to open up more public contracts to the VCSE sector and that her department had been waiting to roll out some initiatives until her appointment was made.
The VCSE crown representative post was created in 2011 but had been vacant since Michael O'Toole stepped down in 2014.
Dove said she “has her own ideas” of what she aims to achieve in the role but said she would consult the sector before setting out her vision.
She said: “Prior to the announcement, I have been meeting with officials within the department and I of course have my own ideas of what we can achieve as we go forward."
Dove said the government had some initiatives it wants to "roll out" but had been waiting to for her appointment to be confirmed but that it is also important "to hear from the sector" and it is only after that has happened that "we will be able to set out a vision, a target of what we want to achieve".
She said she shared the sector's frustrations with the Social Value Act. "And I’m sure that over time people will share those frustrations with me.
“But I also need to hear some of the solutions that you feel could be put in place. And to listen to some of the successes that have been happening. If we can, we need to bring those all to the table.
“This role can only work if we make a concerted effort together. I relish the opportunity of this challenge and that we, together can bring about much needed change that we all want to see.”
The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires public commissioners to think about whether they can secure added economic, social or environmental benefits for their local area when they are procuring services.
But many speakers at the event said the Act was being ignored by some commissioners and needed strengthening.
40 years in the sector
Dove said she felt very humbled by the by the positive response she had received from the sector since her appointment on Monday.
Dove was the chair of Social Enterprise UK between 2007 and 2017. She has been active in the social enterprise movement since the 1980s and led the Blackburne House Group, an adult and community education provider, since it was founded.
She was on the board of the Charity Commission between 2013 and 2016.
At the event on Wednesday, Dove said: “This year for me signals a change in role but a continuity in the work I’ve undertaken over the past 40 years of working in the sector. And that I am as ambitious as ever for the sector as I know first-hand the change that we can deliver.”
Potential mass insourcing
A journalist asked the panel’s thoughts on the public’s distrust of outsourced government contracts, following the collapse of Carillion earlier this year and the Labour party’s indication that it would take some services like rail back in-house if it were to get into power.
Dove said she would not favour a model where government bodies provide all services in-house as she remembers “the clunkiness of local authorities trying to provide services to communities was not good in some respects”.
She said: "Some of the local authority people who have been outsourced and have started their own social enterprise, have done exceptionally well. They have been able to get best value from the contract.
“If you go from one extreme to the other, I don’t think it would work in the main for these types of contracts.”