Social enterprises have been left out of plans to allow NHS providers to take over community service properties, in a move condemned as a “slap in the face” for the government’s Big Society agenda.
The Department of Health announced this month that mental health trusts and acute trusts which had taken over community services would be able to take over assets where the trust is the majority occupant, and the buildings integral to the community services provided.
Aspirant community foundation trusts had already received guidance saying they would be able to take over the properties they use.
However, no mention was made of the 22 staff-run social enterprises, many of which were set up under the Transforming Community Services programme.
Ceri Jones, head of policy and research at Social Enterprise UK, said the move was “at odds with the wider Big Society agenda, so much of which centres on communities and social enterprises taking over the ownership of public assets”.
She added that unless social enterprises were allowed to take over community service properties they would be at a competitive disadvantage because owning assets would enable the bodies to demonstrate strong finances, enabling them to raise finance.
John Niland, managing director of Central Essex Community Services, said it was a “slap in the face” for social enterprises, which ministers had encouraged staff to set up as part of the Big Society.
He said his organisation would want to acquire some community service assets, but would be “choosey” if given the chance. “Some would be too big a liability - we wouldn’t want to inherit a money pit”, he said.
But, he added, a social enterprise would be motivated to improve and invest in the properties it did take over.
Siobhan Clarke, managing director of Your Healthcare in Kingston, said: “So much for level playing fields – social enterprises should be afforded the same right to acquire assets as any other provider.”
Existing DH guidance states properties should only be sold to independent bodies such as social enterprises where the buildings are surplus to requirements, and that they should be sold by auction or competitive tendering.
The transfer of assets does not currently cover public-private partnerships, private finance initiatives or the local improvement finance trust schemes, which currently remain with PCTs.
According to the DH’s timetable, PCTs must agree which properties will be transferred by 14 September with final government approval due by 15 December.