The Social Business

Twenty five per cent

As I mentioned in my last post, we had to work hard to make sure our holiday money stretched to the end of our stay in France. Conveniently, for this story, £1 was worth around 25% less than it was last time we were in France. So the daily lunchtime beer in a cafe was out, replaced by a beer back on the terrace at the flat. The daily late-afternoon ice creams came from the supermarket, not the ice-cream parlour. It was hardly the 1930’s, but it wasn’t 2008 either.

So we changed our behaviour to adapt to our circumstances. The other time we did that was when Francis was born. We agreed that Antonia would take a year off. Again, handily for this story, that meant that we had to cut our budgets by around 25% (one salary lost for 6 months). We took advice from Alvin Hall, and tips from Martin Lewis. We worked out what money we would have, and set ourselves a budget. Most importantly, we went back to the cash economy. We agreed what we could afford to spend, and then took that cash out of the bank at the start of each month.

Handing over bank notes focuses the mind in a way that paying with plastic never could. It feels like real money, and gives you a greater sense of whether what you are about to purchase feels like good value, and is really needed. Anyone who gives you advice on how to spend less will tell you to start dealing in cash.

I’m fully aware that there are millions of people who are in a far worse position than me financially, for whom weekly budgeting, on far less money than me, is a painful fact of life. So my 25% cuts aren’t anywhere near as painful as someone else’s. But they are still significant – for me at least.

I’ve been thinking recently how (or if) I should work with organisations which are going to have to slash their expenditure by 25% or more. I enjoy a lot of the work I do. That doesn’t feel like the kind of work that’d be much fun.

But how could I help? I think that one thing I bring to my work is that whilst I’m driven by helping people to achieve social change, I’m also a realist and a pragmatist. I can separate the emotion of a social mission from the hard realities of the market. Maybe that’s one way I can help. Any discussions about budget cuts – particularly if there is a real/illusory desire to involve all staff – will be full of emotion, and rightly so. Trying to find a workable way forward in those circumstances will be very difficult. An outsider might be able to help.

Helping people to “think the unthinkable”, and challenge long-held assumptions, which have been sheltered from real life by the odd parallel universe that is the World of Funding, might be of use too. Could organised abandonment of that cherished, but less effective, project, be better in the long term than cuts across the board? And might it be worth looking at the way we work, and how we deal with our customers, to see where there is failure demand in our systems? In other words, demand (and therefore spent resources) that is only there because things aren’t dealt with properly first time. There is no one big idea which will help to cut expenditure less painfully, but I personally find the idea of failure demand pretty useful.

One thing is clear, any answers that I help people come up with won’t be my answers. Just as I don’t write business plans for people, I won’t be advising people on how to cut their budgets. But it might be that I can be part of something in Leeds or elsewhere where a group of organisations come together and share the burden of finding ways to continue to deliver change with less money.

If you have any thoughts please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Categories: Business, Customer service, Public services, Social change, Social enterprise, Social entrepreneurs, Social Justice, Voluntary sector

Social innovation, Danone style » « Travel news

3 Comments

  1. There are choices in this Rob apart from cut. You didn’t cut out beer and ice cream. You found ways to get the same service at lower cost. You innovated.

    A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Yet for many public and quasi public bodies the assumption is that reduced budgets mean reduced services. While much of the private sector is used to learning how to innovate in order to do more with less.

    Perhaps we need an Innovation Space – http://leedscd.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/towards-an-innovation-lab-for-leeds/

  2. Very thought-provoking post Rob. I like the cash-only idea. God knows how much money we piss away on plastic and cash is the ultimate reality-check. Also a nice push on your business which as you know i think is it strongest single selling point. Good post.

  3. I’d not seen it like this before but you and Mike are right. The public sector response to budget cuts is always to cut services and get more people in to help them decide where to draw the lines.

    I think we all need to cut our personal spend, not because we neccessarily have to, but because we can and the money we save might be more useful somewhere else – like in my case, put away for my old age.

    Which reminds me that it now costs me more to fill up with diesel than I used to earn in a week when I started work. How scary is that!

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