The 21st century had a pretty lousy start. Less than a decade in and the global financial system threatened to implode, thanks to a combination of reckless bank lending and government connivance with that massive irresponsibility. Whether we like it or not, government debt is vast and the only reaction from policymakers has – so far – been to slash public sector spending and lavishly print money.
Thank goodness for organisations such as 3SC, one of the latest members of the Social Stock Exchange. It’s stepping into this wreckage and doing what it can to ensure the survival of invaluable social services.
And yet you may have never heard of 3SC.
Its website says “3SC wins and manages public services contracts on behalf of third sector organisations. Using a consortium model we manage the bidding process and build supply chains of local organisations allowing smaller third sector providers to compete for, and deliver large contracts.” Unpicking that mouthful, what it really means is – winning contracts from central or local government is a nightmare of bureaucracy, which small charities and third sector entities struggle to navigate. So the very sensible idea behind 3SC is to act as a conduit for all the tiddlers, so that they stand a fair chance of winning a bid to do a job that the State is farming out.
Simple to say – hard to do – as anyone who has dealt with a central/local government tender will tell you.
We spoke to John Swinney, 3SC’s chairman, to find out more about the enterprise. Swinney has spent more than 20 years working in local government and social housing. If he doesn’t know the ropes, the hoops to jump through and in what order when it comes to dealing with public tenders, then no-one does.
“We try to facilitate the bidding process for government contracts for third sector organisations and charities. These organisations are great at doing their particular job but they often don’t have the skills, experience or time to succeed at a public tender. So we bring together small organisations to do big programmes,” explains Swinney. It’s an admirable idea, and since its formation in 2009 3SC has had considerable success in pursuing that aim.
But it has to be said that along the way – and with three successive CEOs – it’s been difficult to keep the initial momentum going. And the financial muscle is still wanting. Currently 3SC turns over about £2-£3 million annually, which sounds a lot but is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the many social needs the organisation supports.
Yet if you look at the sheer volume of personal case studies on 3SC’s website it’s amply evident that the consortium model it employs really does change people’s lives for the better. Since it started 3SC has helped 13,000 people to find work; 2,000 disabled people to stay in work; and has delivered contracts of around £80 million. Revenues in 2015 were £7.6 million, with a tiny profit of £100,000. From the outside I’d say that this is an extremely worthwhile enterprise that needs not only more funding but also more focused planning.
Which is one good reason for joining the Social Stock Exchange, which Swinney says “so far has been hugely helpful” by broadening the network of investor contacts. 3SC, says Swinney, aims at becoming an employee-owned organisation and a limited company – currently it’s a Limited Liability Partnership – and hopes to gain a lot more clout in the future. 3SC sees joining the Social Stock Exchange as helping to raise its profile and adding further credibility when it comes to bidding for government contracts, as well as adding to its transparency and strengthening its governance.
The bigger charities and third sector entities can cope with dealing with central and local government. It’s the minnows that can sometimes flounder, despite them doing great and necessary work. The experience and partnerships that 3SC provides is precisely what the minnows need.
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