Lord Adonis: “State-funded social enterprises require cross-party support to flourish”

16th April 2015

This week Frontline received manifesto commitments from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This means we can be confident of increasing our impact until 2020, recruiting and developing more high achievers with strong emotional capacity to develop as children’s social workers and help transform the lives of vulnerable children and families.

Our chair, Lord Adonis, has played a crucial role in setting up Frontline and in gaining political backing. Today Andrew explains his passion for Frontline’s model, the importance of cross-party support and the scope for more social enterprises to play a role in public service.

The importance of Frontline’s work
Andrew’s commitment to Frontline stems from a long term commitment to raising standards in public service. “Frontline is seeking to improve recruitment into children’s social work, in much the same way as Teach First improved recruitment into teaching, by focusing on highly disadvantaged communities which desperately need better quality support,” he says. “This will have a dramatic affect for troubled families and children in care.”

Pointing to Frontline’s work so far, Andrew indicates that “Frontline has already demonstrated its worth in social work recruitment with 2,700 applicants for Cohort 1. Many are high performing graduates from Russell Group universities who would not have applied to do social work because there wasn’t a national programme with the reach and appeal of Frontline.”

“Of the 103 who began at local authorities in September, 101 are still on the programme which is testament to the quality of the recruits and also the quality of the training available to them in their Local Authorities,” he says. “All the local authorities are delighted with the new recruits and most are asking for more places next year, with Frontline dramatically oversubscribed for Cohort 2. This is great news for social work and have real lasting benefits to troubled families and children in care.”

The impact of the social enterprise model
Andrew points to the independent nature of Teach First and Frontline as a key ingredient to their success. “Effective social enterprises have to be independent and Frontline has been very successful in raising philanthropic funds which will pay for a substantial part of the costs of the charity. A whole string of social enterprises looking to recruit talented graduates into public services have now been set up, with Police Now in its first year and Think Ahead set to recruit mental health practitioners. All of these organisations are looking to recruit the most able graduates with the right skills into challenging frontline roles in public services and Teach First, Frontline and Police Now demonstrate the appetite in young graduates for public service.

So are there any other areas where this model could be applied? “Probation, urban regeneration planning and the transformation of social housing estates,” says Andrew. “Those are three really big challenges where we need more talented graduates. Those interested in these challenges should come and speak to me – and, of course, really study the successes of Frontline and Teach First by talking to their chief executives.”

The benefits of cross-party support
With Frontline this week included in the manifestos of the three major Westminster parties, Andrew believes there are “strong manifesto commitments to troubled families and children in care” and that there can be clear benefits for organisations like Frontline in gaining such backing. “Social enterprises with state funding require cross-party support to flourish and therefore the support of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is very welcome, not least in encouraging graduates to apply because it means the organisation will be around for years to come,” he explains. “The same is true of Teach First which is now in its 13th year and has continued support from the major parties.”

So how do you go about gaining political backing?

“It’s a good idea to speak to the relevant people in all three main parties when setting up social enterprises that rely on public funding – and that was done in the case of Frontline and Think Ahead,” says Andrew. “This was clearly instrumental in gaining cross-party support, but the very strength of the idea counted for a great deal as well. It’s hard not to find a politician who thinks there isn’t a recruitment crisis in social work, or a politician against getting the brightest and the best into the police, mental health and teaching.

“So provided the organisation isn’t in any way associated with political parties, even if the initiative originally comes from a government department, they shouldn’t have too much difficulty gaining cross-party support.”

Interview by Joe Jervis