Local Hero

Local Hero

Social Enterprise magazine
February 2007

Oliver Letwin MP, chair of the Conservative Party’s ongoing policy review, speaks to Social Enterprise’s editor, Tim West, about where Conservative thinking has got to and what we might expect in policy terms when the review concludes later this year


Tim West: Why is the Conservative Party interested in social enterprise?

Oliver Letwin: We’ve taken a very great interest in social enterprise as a way of delivering services and as a way of liberating ourselves from a sort of bureaucratic approach to service delivery, with a more human, more localist flavour. Various policy reviews, of which I am in overall charge, have been looking really very closely at the question of how you can best deliver services and how social enterprises fit into that model of service delivery and also how they can help to address problems of social justice…

I think that in ‘Cameron’s Conservatives’ there’s a particular emphasis on this because we are trying to find ways of sharing responsibility – trusting people to get on with their own lives and to make their communities better, encouraging people to take civic responsibility and professional responsibility more into their own hands… You naturally look not just to the public sector – which has its place, of course – and not just to the commercial sector, but to this third world, betwixt the two, which can involve a contribution from government, but also a contribution from the people on the ground.

That very much connects with our idea that things should be more locally provided. For example, at the moment we are sponsoring the Sustainable Communities Bill, which I have been involved in drafting, because we want to try to transfer more power down to local communities. Very often it’s by finding ways for the social enterprises to deliver services locally that you can actually get the power – real decision-making, real choice – down into the local community, rather than just having it organised on the basis of national bureaucracies.

Tim West: What is the fundamental difference between your approach and Labour’s approach to social enterprise?

Oliver Letwin: It’s not an ideological difference. We both agree that in principle social enterprise is a good thing. But we take the view that our idea of social responsibility implies trying to support and foster social enterprise but not control it, whereas I see that the temptation of the government has been to try to ring social enterprise within the net of targets, directives, plans, schemes, initiatives that are basically centralist. I would put it in terms of a centralist approach and a localist approach.

The full article, ‘Local Hero’ can be read here: