Since the end of the last century governments in many western welfare regimes have been keen to promote the marketisation of public service delivery. This requires changes in the supply of, and demand for, alternative providers in this market, and in particular for many governments this has included third sector providers. This article examines the attempt by the UK Labour government to promote the supply of social enterprises in the market for health and social care services in England, through the Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF), introduced in 2007. The article reports on research evaluating the effectiveness of the SEIF, employing a ‘theories of change’ approach, drawing on a mix of administrative and survey data, qualitative interviews and case studies. The research found that although the SEIF had significant benefits in supporting the start up and growth of organisations, its contribution to their longer-term sustainability was more mixed as most were dependent on grants as a main source of income and were not in a position to compete for public sector contracts. This suggests that there may be limits to the role that public investment can play in such market making.
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