Social Enterprise West Midlands - yet another WM quango rears its head

A few weeks ago a WMTPA supporter found their eyes drawn by two jobs advertised in the 'Birmingham Post' by an organisation called 'Social Enterprise West' Midlands, and needless to say that trusty AWM logo was lurking in the corner confirming this to be yet another taxpayer-funded quango that had just avoided our radar until now.


So who are Social Enterprise West Midlands? Well the ‘About Us’ intro on the website is typically vague:

Social Enterprise West Midlands was launched in 2007 as the regional network and voice for social enterprise. Our members are committed to developing a strong social enterprise sector in the West Midlands.

The one thing they do seem to be clear on, it’s that they are a voice. A representative voice. Because they hammer this home time and time again as though this indicated a specific function or justified their existence.

Usually the best way to get the measure of these dubious ventures that rise out of nowhere, is to check the news or events page to see just how proactive/stagnant they actually are. In this case it proudly displays eight ‘news stories’, the first written on the 17th April 2008, and the last on the 8th December 2008. Take a look for yourselves.

They also have an ‘interactive hub’ stating:

One of our key objectives is to support our members to network with one another in order to learn, share good practice and explore opportunities.

Remember, this is a key objective and success is presumably going to facilitated by new and exciting ideas, like ‘Virtual Members Meetings’, promoted just below with the following sentiment:

We know it’s not always practical, cost effective or good for the environment to have to travel long distances for meetings. That’s why we’re piloting ‘virtual members meetings’ from 1 February 2008.

Well, after a good year long pilot, from the look of the website this one fell a little flat. Why on earth would social enterprise need this quango to facilitate an online meeting anyway? The description page is pretty clear on the fact they just use Skype! Do we need a quango to point us in the direction of Skype? They rave about just how ‘free and easy’, but the fact is, like mugs, we’re paying for them to pass on this widely available information. The words ‘money’, ‘old’ and ‘rope’ spring to mind…

So what else have Social Enterprise West Midlands been up to? Anything a little more substantial? Well they have an online ‘Resource Library’ complete with PDFs of the glossy magazine’s they’ve published as the self-appointed ‘voice’ of the region’s social enterprise scheme, they’ve created a map – yes that’s right, a map – which plots the social enterprise projects are taking place in the region, they’ve held ‘network meetings’ (precisely four in two years) and, of course, board meetings (approximately five in the same two years).

Rather worryingly, it also seems as though they’ll be funneling any surplus money they have after twiddling their thumbs into the latest brainchild, the Centre for Enterprise:

The West Midlands Enterprise Board has recommended that as part of the development of the new Enterprise Brokerage Service a Centre of Expertise for Social Enterprise be established. This would assist and ensure that provision by mainstream support services is accessible and appropriate.
The Centre of Expertise for Social Enterprise will:
• Specify the business support needs of social enterprises
• Understand the role, remit and capacity of existing support organisations
• Develop a bridge between Business Link and social enterprise stakeholders in the region
The Centre of Expertise being resourced by Advantage West Midlands and will be piloted by Social Enterprise West Midlands.

There’s no indication of when the news heralding this new pilot went up on the website and Googling around yields little info, so can we assume this idea crashed and burned or is it something taxpayers will be subsidising as it limps into fruition? And once again we hear the same old names; Advantage West Midlands, Business Link – this is a complex web of costly quangos propagating and inserting themselves into the regions business and enterprise and taking the credit for coincidental upturns.

Social Enterprise West Midlands even use their website to openly appeal for things they can take the credit for and insert into their magazine and bulletin:

We welcome contributions to our website, our monthly e-newsletter Social Enterprise Mailbox and quarterly magazine
We would like to hear about your:
• Success stories– achievements and awards
• News– announcements and new projects
• Events - local and national events of interest to network members
• Case studies – we can help you put this together.
• Comment pieces on a topical issue.  Think pieces should include analysis, background material, and personal opinion.

And that’s not all they want. Apparently three full-time staff aren’t enough to cope with the ruthless workload (what, with organising all the meetings and updating the news page) so now the only two jobs showing on the dedicated page (“We offer our members the opportunity to advertise vacancies free of charge”) are positions at Social Enterprise West Midlands itself – a Business Services Assessor and a Training & Capacity Needs Assessor, both on £26,706 plus 8% pension contribution. The first works with Business Link West Midlands and the second assesses the capacity of other business advice proffering quangos (e.g. Business Link).

We’re now in a recession and we really need to be asking whether there is money available to lavish on projects like this, particularly when all evidence seems to point to the fact that social enterprise organisations weren’t in need of a body like this in the first place. It may be Advantage West Midlands' ambition to have control and influence over all sectors of the regional economy (Social Enterprise West Midlands boast that they have influence over policy in order to entice members and seemingly invest in chunks of £30,000 a time), but this venture is clearly proving that what might benefit the executives at AWM threatens to be pretty detrimental for the ordinary taxpayer.


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