The Social Enterprise Edge

The value of social enterprise is well understood, at least here in social enterprise land. Yet sometimes we wonder if everyone knows what we know: that by contracting with social enterprise you can get more bang for your buck. So when we hear direct from commissioners that we are doing more than they ever imagined we could, it is truly wonderful.

In Jersey HCT Group runs the public bus contract. This contract consists of mainstream buses and school buses and was awarded to us in a rigorous competitive tender a couple of years ago. We won the tender for three reasons, first, we promised to run a high quality service; second, we were the cheapest bid; and third, and very importantly, we are a social enterprise.

The social enterprise bit included a profit share with the commissioners and a pledge to invest surpluses (profit) into Jersey.

We have been doing the profit share for the last couple of years. This is a significant number and the commissioners are very pleased with this element. However the second part of the deal, the reinvestment, we have only just started.

On any bus network there are profitable routes and less profitable routes, and when you run both together you get a network. However there are always many areas where it is not viable to operate any service at all because the costs are too high. This leads to the awful calculus of social isolation.

Here is where social enterprise comes in! We have just launched a 'Parish Link' service in Jersey. This is a service that fits under the mainstream network but connects into it. It is a service on smaller vehicles that provides a level of mobility to areas where the main service cannot run, a timetabled service and one that is very professionally operated.

The difference is the service is driven by volunteers. We provide the vehicle, marketing, fuel etc and the local Parishes provide the volunteer drivers who we train to run the service.

This happens because we are a social enterprise, because we do not have to maximise profit and can invest in loss making services because they are just that, services. The volunteers make it work and they are very happy to 'work' for us because they are 'working' for their community and not shareholders, because they are part of the community and because they have a similar value system.

This is the extra value that comes from commissioning with social enterprise. When I hear our commissioner say that this is the best thing they have ever done, it makes you realise that not everyone by a long way knows what social enterprise can deliver. It is our job to shout louder, our job to make sure commissioners know what can be delivered, it is then our job to ensure communities get what they deserve...... True services to the public.

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