Translating aspiration into action: How commissioners can provide space for innovation

The ‘right to request’ scheme allowed the manager of the Bradford and Airedale PCT interpretation and translation service to turn it into an independent social enterprise called Enable2. But the road to independence was long and complicated, and there are still challenges in the new competitive market.

The process

To become a social enterprise, services had to apply to the PCT board and get their approval. They were supportive of their expression of interest, and asked the group to develop a business case, demonstrating how the organisation could deliver quality services while covering their costs, and providing benefit to the community. This was a key piece of evidence needed for the project to advance, and had to come from an experienced source.

To do this, and set up the structure of the organisation they needed professional financial and legal advice, which they managed to get through grant money from the Social Enterprise Investment Fund. This enabled them to go through the procedures of gaining a contract from the PCT and transferring assets to the new organisation.

The fledgling enterprise also needed a board of trustees, who each brought different experiences and skills to the table. These included a member of the PCT board, a local solicitor, a business-man from a haulage firm, a Dean from the University of Bradford and a former PCT finance director. Having local businesses involved encouraged the organisation to be run as a small business rather than a NHS organisation, making quick decisions and emphasising efficient practice. But by having board representation from their main customers from the PCT, they had trust, by-in and the experience of management staff to draw from.

Future challenges

Enable2 opened its doors in October 2011, and today works with more than 150 self-employed staff, covering more than 50 languages. Bookings have increased five-fold, and at a reduced cost to the NHS. However, it is a long-term process to win contracts from other organisations, as not all public sector organisations are currently tendering for their translation and interpretation services. In addition, there is a lot of competition from other national translation services, aiming to undercut local services on price, if not on quality.

From her time in the NHS, Liz knows other managers in trusts who recognise the value of Enable2’s services, and have had issues in the past with other translation services. Yet to win contracts, Enable2 will have to make a convincing business case that their service is cost effective upfront and the long run, with no hidden costs and additional benefits from providing quality professional services with local knowledge.

In addition, Liz has recognised the potential for alliances with other social enterprises in the area. For example, many small organisations can gain considerable cost advantages for placing joint orders for office supplies and equipment, and can share technical expertise. Building networks and strong relationships with people has been key to finding opportunities for funding and training, and will allow Enable2 to grow even more in the future.

You can find much more information about Enable2 and the services they offer on their website, www.enable2.com

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