Big Society “major opportunity” for reuse sector
The coalition government's ‘Big Society' represents a major opportunity for reuse organisations to deliver more services with both the public and private sector, according to the Furniture Re-use Network.
As the FRN published its business plan for 2011-14 last week, the Network's chief executive, Craig Anderson, highlighted the government's agenda for involving communities more in delivering services as one of a number of ways the sector could establish a "pioneering service". The business plan outlines how the FRN plans to develop its activities between now and 2014. "There are major opportunities in areas such as working with the commercial and public sectors, working on welfare to work provision, with prisons and within the Big Society agenda as a whole. It's a major opportunity to establish a pioneering service," he said.
Mr Anderson noted that the FRN, which represents over 300 reuse charities and social enterprises nationwide, had encountered difficulties working with the public sector in certain areas, but said that the Big Society concept, with its focus on civil society, could help to address this. "We're finding barriers working with the public sector but if they're looking to save money, and the government wants to look at civil society providing more services, they have to take into account the social and economic value of our work," he said.
However, in the Business Plan, the FRN notes that while there are growth opportunities for the reuse sector within the Big Society agenda - such as by taking on bulky waste collections or running volunteering programmes - it needs to be proactive. "The sector will need to engage to survive and grow, and to help design and build a bigger civil society," it outlines in the Plan, while noting that it needs government support to provide social equality and to distribute resources fairly.
As well as the Big Society, the Business Plan raises the potential for increased working with the commercial sector, in light of businesses' corporate social responsibility, or CSR, agendas. "Social, economic and environment value can be found through manufacturing and retailing of goods by supporting product reuse endeavours and introducing product stewardship," the Plan explains. And, it also highlights the influence of environmental regulations, noting in particular the emphasis on reuse in the revised EU Waste Framework Directive, its drive for a network of ‘accredited' re-users, and the CO2 savings from reusing products in comparison to other forms of waste management.
Mr Anderson explained that the challenge now facing the FRN was to represents its members in playing their part in responding to, and benefiting from, those market drivers. "We are a network about bringing people and organisations together," he said. "To represent our membership better we have learnt that we need a strong organisation, to be structured and strong, so the Business Plan is about building that function so we can respond to various opportunities."
In light of this, FRN is aiming to work more closely with both the public and the commercial sectors. In terms of the public sector this involves increasing members' access to council ‘waste' and providing support in areas such as procurement and contract commissioning. And, in relation to the commercial sector, it aims to place a particular focus on building the UK network of Approved Reuse Centres. At the moment, 50 of the FRN members run these centres, which have to undergo an audit process before receiving their ARC certification and registration.