Concerns over social enterprise funding

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QUESTIONS have been raised over the ‘value for money’ of a social enterprise which caters for the over 50s.

Green county councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer highlighted his concerns over Suffolk Circle, which has secured £680,000 of investment from Suffolk County Council.

It comes ahead of an investigation by the authority’s scrutiny committee into what has been learnt from the first year of the organisation.

Cllr Ereira-Guyer said: “What Suffolk Circle is trying to do certainly has laudable aims.

“I profoundly feel we could have gone to other organisations already set up in Suffolk who know the lie of the land and done work for older people.”

He added that the amount spent on setting up the organisation ‘didn’t seem value for money’.

Suffolk Circle is open to anyone aged over 50 and an annual membership fee of £30 gives people access to social activities, a phone number to call for practical advice, a personalised membership pack and monthly letter.

Virtual tokens can be bought for £6 for a range of social events, visits and practical help.

The county council pledged £350,000 for £2010/11 followed by £230,000 for 2011/12 and £100,000 for 2012/13.

It has supported an organisation, Participle, to develop the Suffolk Circle model based on similar work in Southwark.

Participle projects the model will be ‘self-sustainable’ by the end of its third year, based on a minimum target of 3,500 members as it expands across the county.

However, documents presented to the scrutiny committee suggest it has failed to hit its first year membership target with 362 members as of February 29 – short of the 404 aimed for.

In a report into Suffolk Circle’s progress, Richard Hunt, head of service development, culture, sport and communities, said: “Income from members for year one is below target, in part due to lower than projected member numbers, and start up discounted price membership packages.”

The group is expected to produce £770,000 in savings across health and care by 2014.

Mr Hunt said: “Delivery of these efficiencies and savings will be dependent on the scale of membership of Suffolk Circle.

“Based on projections for membership, the vast majority of efficiency and savings from Circle activity will accrue in year three when a critical mass of members and networks is established.”

He added that membership could be increased by face to face marketing led by members and helpers, the internet and social media.

The scrutiny committee will discuss the issues on Tuesday at Endeavour House, in Ipswich.