Posts Tagged ‘big society bank’

Today we reveal the findings from Fightback Britainour report on the findings of the State of Social Enterprise survey which we carried out earlier this year. We chose the name because the evidence shows that social enterprises are trading, growing, diversifying and starting up fast in the UK’s most deprived communities. This is the stuff of economic fightback, and we hope politicians, commissioners and consumers pay heed and choose social enterprise in the future.

You’ll know only too well that social enterprises are by no means finding it an easy climate.  I’m only too aware that some of our members, doing some of the most incredible work, with some of the most vulnerable communities, are fighting for survival. So much uncertainty remains that forward planning is for many, limited to no more than a 3-month view.

But alongside those businesses that are desperately looking to adjust, adapt and survive  are social enterprises that are growing, thriving and seizing opportunities.  PM training is one such company that has added to its growing family of businesses by buying two further businesses and converting them to social enterprises – delivering impact and profit – profit that may well eventually be made available to fuel growth for other businesses in our sector.   Jan Golding at Roots HR, another SE UK member, tells me she has never been busier.  HCT Group have added another £8m to their business portfolio over the last 7-8 months, growing their overall turnover by more than 25% and Cool to Care is achieving growth, attracting investment and transforming the quality of care right across the country.  London Early Years Foundation continues to grow its portfolio of nurseries and shrink its reliance on public sector funding.

The experience in Scotland continues to make the country an attractive prospect and a safer bet for both existing social enterprises and start-ups.  On a recent trip to Scotland I had the privilege of meeting the CEO of 10,000 hours CIC – an organisation that I believe has the ambition, drive and creativity to develop it into a multi-million pound business within only a few years.  It’s not just their plans for growth that are astonishing – it’s the way they’re co-operating with a range of community groups, charities, other social enterprises and neighbourhoods to really turn the football club (St. Mirren) into a true community asset.  The Scottish Government are also investing significant resource in bespoke business support for social enterprises across Scotland, something that’s still sadly lacking in England.

The report we publish today shows that the trend across the UK is that many social enterprises that continue to achieve growth are doing so by evolving their products and services into business-to-business markets and by trading directly with consumers.  We all know that times are tough but social enterprises are incredibly innovative.  Most are not accepting the current situation, many are adapting to these uncertain times with energy and vigour and doing all they can to ensure that the impact they generate will be safeguarded by being more entrepreneurial than ever.

Thank you for your ongoing support of what we at Social Enterprise UK are trying to do on your behalf, I can assure you that those of us working in infrastructure organisations right across the third sector face the same challenges as many of you are experiencing right now.  We’re trying to be as enterprising as we can be to ensure our own impact continues to develop and grow.  As always we need your stories of what is happening within your businesses so we can influence thinking as we did with the development of Chris White’s Social Enterprise Bill, and with realisation of the Big Society Bank now called Big Society Trust and Big Society Capital.  We hope you like the report and our new bolder approach to our communications with the new brand of Social Enterprise UK.  But the best is yet to come – you’ll have a new web platform from us in 6 or 7 weeks that promises a new approach to the way our ever-growing membership interacts with us and should deliver new ways of finding the support you’ve told us you need and find useful.

I look forward to seeing many of you as we embark on the ever-busy party conference circuit next month. We’ll be pushing for sector-specific business support to be made available; for a new bespoke regulatory framework for social investors;  for the government to make good on its commitment to see that at least 25% of all public sector budgets are spent with SME’s by revolutionizing the way commissioning and procurement decisions are made. And we’ll be pushing to ensure that all politicians recognise that social enterprise is not just good for social value but that it is also about creating the sustainable economic renaissance our country and communities so desperately need.




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A recently-retired senior civil servant emailed me recently, saying “I have a smallish but not insignificant sum to invest and you’ve sold me the social enterprise vision. What investment opportunities exist within the sector – do you know of any?” at moments like this the realities of connecting demand and supply – both exciting and depressing – come crashing in.

Access to more mainstream capital is critical if we are going to realise our ambitions for social enterprise. While many incredible social enterprises don’t have an appetite or ambition for turbo-charged growth, many, many do. While it’s true that the Co operative Group has grown its business only through reinvesting its own profits, plenty in our movement don’t want to wait decades to realise the growth they could achieve if capital were more accessible.

Of course the Big Society Bank is a welcome addition but let’s be realistic. It’s not and will never be the whole answer to our needs.

The much-discussed Social Stock Exchange perhaps provides a bigger opportunity for us. We know there are people out there who live ethical lives; consumer trends suggest that this market is resilient and growing. But while it’s easier and easier to buy with a conscience how easy is it to invest with the same level of diligence? Although ethical savings and pension funds are now more common I question just how ethical these are. I have a small green pension fund but I suspect it’s a very pale shade of green.

A social stock exchange could be a game changer – it could bring together successful socially beneficial enterprises and connect them to sources of investment that are hungry for a blended return.

We have nearly a million people working within the sector who could be potential investors, we have any army of supporters across other sectors, we have charities with large reserves in traditional and often dirty investment portfolios and billions of pounds in local authority investments. This money could be working for our communities, stimulating growth and innovation rather than simply looking for the highest and often risky financial return (remember local authority Icelandic investments anyone?). A social stock exchange could realise the level of investment in our sector that we need to fuel growth and exploit opportunity – and most social investors would be happy with bonds rather than simple equity – so ownership and values need not be compromised in the process. I’m supporting Pradeep and Mark in the creation of the Social Stock Exchange – I’m hoping you do too.

On a slightly different note I thought Monday’s FT article on future outsourcing was very revealing. The big companies that churn billions of pounds of tax payers money simply don’t see the wider sector as a threat:
“there is no way on the planet that these contracts are going to be let to a charity…the (charitable) sector will not be a massive player in the delivery of public services as they “simply don’t have the scale and can’t bear the risk of things going wrong.”

They could be right but, as any smart cookie knows, you should never underestimate your competitors. This sort of lazy complacency may well be their future Achilles heel. Of course we recognise that scale and capitalization remain major challenges for us but we are developing fast – new ideas around Social Enterprise LLP’s, new bonds, growing public awareness, lord Hodgson’s red tape task force for charities and social enterprises , ever growing evidence of our sector’s resilience, economic success and social value are putting us in an increasingly better place SO, despite the dreadful economic circumstance the future could still be ours. Our soon-to-be launched State of Social Enterprise survey will reveal some reasons to be cheerful and some reasons to feel very proud. More to follow on that one!

Finally I was in Edinburgh last week to meet peers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Exciting stuff is happening in Scotland where a net increase in resources for the sector has been announced. It appears rhetoric is turning into reality in Scotland. New opportunities are emerging in Wales although the cuts are hitting poorer communities incredibly hard and the Northern Ireland Assembly are slowly but surely waking up to the role of social enterprise in developing a robust and resilient mixed economy. Across the UK nations we have agreed to work more closely than ever, syndicate content, develop closer policy alignment and do much more co-production than ever before.

We finished the meeting with a visit to St Jude’s laundry which Forth Sector has recently acquired. An amazing place providing the cleanest, freshest laundry to corporate and private customers – it even has a royal warrant.

It was a great way, once again, to reconnect with the values, innovation, impact and diversity of the sector. It currently employs around 40 staff. A thriving, competitive, viable business that is working with some of the most marginalised people in our society. It has ambition, it has soul, it has happy customers and I’m in no doubt it has a great future.

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The Prime Minister was making some bold statements about enterprise this weekend;

“The enterprise culture is alive and well in this country, now we just need an enterprise government to go with it.”

Well in my little part of London there is definitely growing confusion between exactly what an enterprise culture is… two consecutive Fridays and two consecutive burglaries (will someone please tell the burglars in Wanstead about the difference between crime, enterprise and perhaps even introduce the notion of social enterprise to them?). To be honest I’ve not had too much time to even notice these recent intrusions because we are so incredibly busy with VOICE 11, the UK Social Enterprise Awards, end of year, rebranding and a few other things like the Mutuals task force, bid writing, contract delivery and policy consultations on everything from community rights, Big Society bank, cutting red tape, GP commissioning and the future of the forests.

And so it’s easy to miss out on the narrative around just how many serious opportunities there could well be for social enterprise in the coming months and years. The PM also said “So I can announce today that we are taking on the enemies of enterprise… the public sector procurement managers who think that the answer to everything is a big contract with a big business and who shut out millions of Britain’s small and medium sized companies from a massive potential market.”

I’m not sure it’s the just the fault of procurement managers but much more the culture within which these managers have to work, however our movement should be poised to take advantage of these forthcoming opportunities because if we don’t it will be our communities and other beneficiaries that will miss out. So how will collectively grab these opportunities? Well back to VOICE11.

Together with O2, we are making sure Voice will be the most exciting, exhilarating and purposeful event in our history. Dynamic and interactive, yes, but most importantly it will be good for the businesses that attend and take part. The sheer scale of the O2 in London means that there’s much more on offer than ever before. There will be hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of investment up for grabs on the day, amazing interactive sessions for every size of business and every area of trade. We have some very prominent politicians, a whole host of trading social enterprises, live debates and spot-on legal advice, tax and accountancy consultations and HR support. The event will reflect the vibrancy of the sector. We have huge networking zones, a twitter forest, social enterprise caterers, and a spectacular youth zone dedicated to what’s being delivered by and for the UK’s young people.

And the UK Social Enterprise Awards follow directly afterwards – the four nations category winners will be competing for the seven categories in the UK awards and more than ever we have some incredibly inspiring and entrepreneurial nation winners and UK award entrants. Oh and a very special compere for the event.

I can’t tell you how excited we all are.

And I can’t wait to see you all there!

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It’s Friday and another week has flown by (really, where do they go?!). There’s been some serious but exciting planning for the future at SEC HQ, productive meetings, a good time at the Guardian’s Public Services Summit, I’ve met some newcomers to social enterprise who are at the beginning of their journeys, and enjoyed the glorious morning sunshine that we were given in London earlier in the week as I cycled through the capital on my way to work. SEC also welcomed some amazing new members on board (thank you to those who came by our offices and said hello in person – lovely to meet you).

But that’s enough about me and SEC. Three announcements from within Westminster were made this week that are important news for our members and the wider movement.

The first is that ‘clawback rights’ are on their way out. They’ve been a huge barrier, stopping social enterprises from leveraging finance against their assets when public funds have been used to finance them.

The second is that a number of big banks are clubbing together to give £200million to set up the Big Society Bank. No, the sum isn’t huge, but it is an opportunity for social enterprises to show the banks what they can do. Here’s hoping the capital becomes available soon.

And the third is that a number of measures are being put in place to make sure that a quarter of Government business goes to SMEs, and that more contracts are won by social enterprises and charities. Definitely a good start, but we want to see (at least) 25% of Government business go to SMEs that are social enterprises. Fingers crossed Government gives our movement a more open door in the future so that those public spending decisions can go further in benefitting our people and our planet, rather than simply growing the profit margins of private sector businesses.

A big thank you to our members and others who fed into the consultations we submitted on these issues. We’re here to represent you and ensure your voices are heard.

Happy weekends to you all.

Ps. Enter to win free tickets to Voice11 every week between now and the event on 30th March!!

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Johnny Cash, as some of you might know walked the line and eventually fell into a burning ring of fire… I have some sympathy with old Johnny Cash; we at SEC find ourselves constantly walking the line and trying to avoid a fall.  The team here at SEC towers have been having detailed ongoing discussions and grappling with the multitude of issues that have existed since some of our aspirations (and indeed our manifesto asks) were in part realised by the new coalition Government.

Social enterprise is clearly at the heart of the Big Society agenda both in terms of sustainable community action and public sector transformation. It’s an ideology that we have campaigned for successfully over a number of years and now the agenda has finally arrived; vanguard communities, mutual pathfinders, co operative councils, the community right to buy, bid, build. We even have, thanks to a great pre-election campaign by SEC, Chris White MPs private members bill on Social Value and Social Enterprise which will be tabled in November. It’s like our Christmases have come all at once. Almost.

Because these are no ordinary Christmases; these are harsh Dickensian Christmases where you were lucky if you got three hazelnuts, a wooden horse and a shiny penny. Can the vision, that we have said we can create, be achieved during the greatest reduction in public spending in living history? Can we achieve the scale that we want with a modestly sized Big Society Bank, philanthropy, social impact bonds and loan finance? Is there the practical support out there for social enterprise to meet the demand?

We hear from a multitude of members great and small that times are tough, budgets are being cut, contracts cancelled and community centres, hubs  and other buildings that communities have had their eye on for years are being rapidly put up for sale by cash strapped councils as they try and prepare for ‘the cliff’ of  Mar 31 2011. Plunkett’s community pubs project having their modest £3M funding withdrawn was also a sign of the times.

So how do we walk the line? How do we effectively champion social enterprise, maintain our identity as an independent movement and both challenge and advise government? The rapid pace of change across nearly all Government departments is genuinely breathtaking; at SEC we have a great relationship with key civil servants and ministers and an opportunity to influence many of the policies that affect our sector. We will not, nor should not, give that up too willingly; influence is one of our greatest assets.

We need to be challenging, at times publicly, and also need to talk candidly with those in and those close to Government about our concerns, hopes and aspirations and provide solutions in order that current opportunities are not lost.

We must also remember that a good proportion of our members and indeed our sector operate in consumer markets and need us not to become entirely focused on the Big Society. Perhaps the real social enterprise revolution will occur when members of the public demand social enterprise solutions rather than just members of parliament.

So we at SEC walk the line between influence and protest, between consumer and public sectors, between start-ups and scale ups and between the very social and the very enterprising.

As a practitioner before taking the helm at SEC, I had my views on what it should be or could be and would ask ‘why doesn’t it…?’ Now I’m here I’ve got a much better idea – its bloody hard work walking the line.

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Ec + f2d *SE – bm =   Big Soc

Empowered communities + framework to deliver X Social enterprise – barriers to market = Big Society.

I have always passionately believed that we underestimate the skills and the talents that exist within our communities, and given my own experience, I know that this underestimation is no more evident than within areas of complex need and multiple disadvantage.

Over the years I worked in Gillingham at Sunlight Development Trust, peoples’ understanding, not only of the problems but also of the possible solutions, never failed to amaze and inspire me.  People knew, and at times instinctively, how services could be better designed and shaped to meet their needs more effectively and more efficiently. And frequently these people were in the midst of their own personal crises and tragedies.

But stepping forwards and choosing to take action was not always the way that things happened in Gillingham. Many people simply had the confidence that they themselves could create change within their communities knocked out of them. This normally occurred after finding no open avenues through which to influence the way that things are done, or being told that they had no role to play in delivering things; in some cases it took more than six months for a CRB check to come through, in other cases they were told that they did not have the requisite qualifications, language or experience to participate.   This kind of experience has forced many talented people to become passive recipients of what the state delivers because every attempt to become an active participant has ended in frustration.  Too frequently, people’s ideas and energies have been signposted to death and eventually referred, and then further referred, into a chasm of inaction, a vacuum of opportunity.

The fact that at Sunlight we were minded to offer opportunities rather than services created a genuine community driven movement. And the fact that during the ten years I was there, more than 60 community groups established themselves shows that the Big Society vision can become a reality.

But for Big Society to achieve its ambition, we cannot underestimate the task that is required in overcoming the scepticism that has been created over generations. People will not simply rise up and begin to influence, create and deliver, particularly in the areas where neighbourhood cohesion is at its worst.

In Gillingham, the majority eventually got the message and began to believe, after years of learned cynicism -or perhaps for the first time -that everyday citizens could influence, develop and create solutions that would effect change within their communities, neighbourhoods and lives.

Existing catalysts will need to be resourced and new ones established that can rebut the cynical cries of ‘that will never work’ or ’we tried that before’;  we will need social enterprise leaders to raise aspiration and ambition and community development workers to facilitate ideas into action in a very local way . We will need access to assets, we will need to remove existing commissioning barriers and create new opportunities for communities to deliver themselves. Using social enterprise as a backbone, profits that are generated from service delivery will be able to seed the next generation of Big Society activity long after the Big Society Bank has invested all of its dosh.  However early signs are not too encouraging; the DWP’s one size fits all approach (and that size is XXXXL) is the antithesis of localism and the Big Society we’re promised; it contradicts so much of what has been promised to our communities, social enterprises and community groups.

Whether in health, community safety, youth provision, employment, training or elderly care,  if communities are given the opportunity to deliver as promised and are given the tools, resources and market opportunities to do so, I for one believe that the Big society vision, over years or perhaps decades can finally and sustainably be achieved.

But this is neither a short term nor quick fix to our recent fiscal crisis. This is about demonstrating an ideological commitment to developing resilient, sustainable communities that are healthy, empowered and flourishing. And for this to happen, such a commitment has to be shown right across Government, nationally and locally, and my guess is that it will have to be forced rather than simply encouraged.

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