Our attention was drawn (thanks, Solomon) to a post on the businesszone site which has the quote of the week from Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK: "Speaking at the opening of Social Enterprise Exchange in Glasgow, he went on to say that at a recent event, his chair, Claire Dove, 'almost decked' Emma Harrison, the 'infamous' founder of A4e." He also said that A4e was about "pure profiteering and greed". Holbrook's organisation is not alone in distancing itself from A4e. It defines a social enterprise in the usual way, and specifically excludes any company which exists to make profits for shareholders or to "make its owners very wealthy". Not so an organisation called ClearlySo, which says that it "connect(s) social enterprises with investors & the corporate world". Their definition of a social enterprise is so elastic that they talk loosely of a "social business" which aims "to do good by doing well" (which is an inversion of one of Emma Harrison's little sayings) and A4e qualified to be in their directory. The recent scandal got them seriously debating whether the company ought to stay in it, and now they've decided that it shouldn't. The logic of their reasoning is beyond me.
Among those who really don't like A4e and all it represents are a lot of "voluntary sector" organisations. This is another area where definitions are a bit blurred. But on the Third Sector website someone called Debra Allcock Tyler tells us that "Charities should be running services because they care for people, not profit." On the subject of the A4e scandal, she says: "I've been particularly amused by the moral outrage expressed by some of our politicians about the size of the salaries and bonuses paid to its directors." Why should they be surprised when that's what businesses are for? But her conclusion is that all the contracts should be given to charities. "Our sector isn't in it for the money. We will do whatever it takes to continue to serve our beneficiaries, none of the money given to us will be distributed in profits and we do not walk away when the money dries up. So for me it's a no-brainer. Use charities to deliver services to vulnerable people." I disagree. The answer is a public sector which is properly valued, and actually pays people to do the front line work rather than just the management.
A4e, of course, are fighting back, with yet more PR. They have now engaged "support from the Conservative Party's former campaign director", according to PRWeek. "A small number of senior employees at Quiller Consultants, led by George Bridges, are working on what sources have described as a ‘crisis comms brief’......... A senior public affairs figure commented: ‘Bridges has very senior connections, and his crisis management role will be to help A4e get through its present mess.’" Those "very senior connections" again; Bridges apparently ran George Osborne's 2010 election campaign. But will they pull A4e out of the mess? The company already employs at least 4 PR companies and has recently worked with another three. Is the current need really for friends in high places?