Posts Tagged ‘Social Enterprise Coalition’

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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There was something quite delicious in seeing a social enterprise newspaper (for me the Guardian with its ownership sitting with the Scott Trust is a social enterprise, however they describe themselves!) be value led, tenacious, committed, and ultimately seek to protect democracy and ensure that the laws of the land are applied to all, no matter what their position in our society.

I know the rolling news can become repetitive and as a result a wee bit tiresome, but let us never forget just how serious this piece of news is. It’s not about celebrities’ right to privacy being infringed. It’s not even about the appalling and unbelievable decisions made to invade the lives of families affected by dreadful crimes. It’s about a private company having vast influence, verging on control of our democracy, having been exposed.  Well done to The Guardian, Chris Bryant MP, Norman Fowler MP and Tom Watson MP – all of whom were under all sorts of pressure to back down and go away.

But whilst the story keeps unravelling, other pieces of news have been almost entirely lost. The ‘opening public services’ white paper emerged yesterday with more of a whimper than a bang. We were all mightily frustrated. We worked hard to make the voice of social enterprise be heard; we were even lined up be on Radio 4 Today, then the PM programme, but the story was dropped at the last minute as more News International revelations emerged. One might say a good day to bury bad news.

The white paper (though actually positive in parts) poses as serious a threat to our public services and to the vision of a more plural economy in which social enterprises can grow their contribution to economic and social recovery – and demonstrate that Big Society isn’t just about volunteering.

I’m concerned that these proposed reforms will create an unequal playing field in which social enterprises are unable to compete with large private sector providers for public sector contracts.  In too many instances we still struggle to find the capital required or do not have the scale to compete with big private businesses in public sector markets, where the commissioning process favours the big – and by design excludes the small and the medium.

The frustration of government that a public sector monopoly stifles efficiency, innovation and value will not be resolved by replacing a public sector monopoly with a private sector oligopoly. It hasn’t worked in transport deregulation or the introduction of competition following the privatisation of our utilities.  And the risks of getting it wrong in other parts of the public sector are very, very serious.

Yes reform is necessary, but these plans must protect our shared interests in public services, not put them at risk.  Without the necessary safeguards, these proposals will allow big private providers to dominate public sector markets.  Taxpayers’ money will flow into profit seeking organisations that exist only to satisfy the needs of their shareholders.  Public services must operate for the communities and people they serve, nobody else.

The Government’s plans to extend Payment by results will put private sector organisations at an automatic advantage.  They’ll simply use their stronger balance sheets and ability to attract private investment to win contracts.

We only have to look to the Department for Work and Pensions Work Programme to see that when markets open up, large private sector providers move in and squeeze out smaller organisations.  A tiny proportion of the contracts went to social enterprises despite it being hailed by Government as a boost for the Big Society. What happened to the WISE group in Scotland was scandalous and had their whole value been considered within their tender they would surely have romped home to victory.  Their smaller size and access to capital was their downfall, NOT the quality, design or track record in delivery – all of which I know were outstanding.

A You Gov poll carried out for us shows that people do not want the private sector to run public services.  Our research was carried out before the Southern Cross debacle and there’ll be even more cynicism now about big corporations and their involvement in our national treasures.  It is encouraging that the majority of those surveyed said they wanted public services to be run by social enterprises.  We hope the politicians are taking note of this public opinion.

The important question now is how serious is the Government’s want for social enterprises and mutuals to play a bigger role in public service delivery.  The country’s policy makers need to lever in investment and infrastructure to ensure that there are enough of them in the marketplace able to deliver.  But the £10million support programme announced by ministers last year to do just that, has not yet materialised.  It’s an anxious waiting game.

I am aware that social enterprises out there delivering public services share my fears. A few glimpses of the trends emerging from the forthcoming state of social enterprise survey – due early August – say they are.  We are all becoming increasingly uneasy if the opportunities promised by Government will materialise:

  • Social enterprises trading mainly with the public sector anticipate they will make half of all the likely redundancies within the social enterprise business community over the next 12 months.
  • Social enterprises doing most of their business with the public sector view the coming years with gloom, with markedly lower business confidence than their social enterprise peers trading with consumers and private businesses.
  • Of the social enterprises trading mainly with the public sector, two-thirds anticipate that their growth will come from diversifying away from working with the public sector (64%).

These are sombre findings in tough times.  But we won’t give up the fight.

Till next time.


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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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Pat Samuels, with a career and experience spanning 26 years departed the Cabinet Office today to take early retirement. One of a number of senior civil servants who have also opted for an early exit.

Pat has been nothing less than brilliant, leaving the treasury to join, support and perhaps even lead the civil society movement through her often too subtle role within the CO. Colleagues, friends and her husband joined the massed ranks of everything that is good in civil society to say thank you to Pat.

Whilst the Voluntary and Community Sector praised her with warm rhetoric it was the social enterprise movement that moved from rhetoric to delivering the goods; in this case the goods were treats from Jamie’s Fifteen restaurant. Oven gloves, an apron and a fab bottle of rose were presented in recognition of Pat’s work in helping shape the social enterprise policy agenda.

It was good to see Stephen Bubb there, and Stuart Etherington with the NCVO posse, but the event was severely lacking in ministerial representation, which Pat should have clearly commanded. A good night, but unfortunately it was as subtle and as low key as Pat would have wanted, but surely didn’t deserve.

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I left for South Africa with the sad news that the WISE group had been unsuccessful with their bid to DWP. Their performance on previous DWP contracts had been outstanding – a shining example of what social enterprise can achieve, a high performer that not only gets people back to work, but does so by improving whole lives and regenerating communities.

The winning prime contractors have committed to between a 3%-7% third sector supply chain. Is DWP out of step with the Government’s commitment that 25% of public spending will go to SME’s, and that as the Queen stated in her opening of parliament charities, co-operatives and social enterprises will play a bigger role in public service? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

We’ll be working with the WISE group to ensure that DWP fully understand the missed opportunity that this decision has created. As I’ve said before, we don’t want unfair advantage, but we want a level playing field and for the added value that we create to be recognised within the commissioning frameworks.

So I arrived in Johannesburg for the 4th World Social Enterprise Forum and it wasn’t the best first impression. I got into a taxi with two fellow speakers who had flown in from Italy. Our driver, who had left his car in a zone that clearly stated ‘No stopping’, was given a ticket. An angry exchange between the driver and the policeman followed, before he got into the car and said: ‘If I was black he wouldn’t have given me a ticket, he’s is a fascist’. The three of us spontaneously and angrily pounced upon him and we spent the rest of the journey without a sound from him. ‘Is this really representative of the new South Africa?’ I thought.

Opening of the 2011 Social Enterprise World Forum

Opening of the 2011 Social Enterprise World Forum in Johannesburg

The World Forum brings together hundreds of speakers, delegates, activists, policy wonks and politicians from right around the world. It’s not only an information and learning exchange, the forum acts as a catalyst for social enterprise development in whatever territory it lands. Sometimes it’s a whole country that’s affected and sometimes such as in Africa a whole continent that benefits. The UN were present, the world bank, international NGOs and many people who are tirelessly running inspiring social enterprises in some of the harshest economic circumstances anywhere in the world.

Jay Naidoo (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and previous cabinet minister of South Africa), Professor Kovin Naidoo (International Centre for Eyecare Education), Futhi Mtoba (Deloitte Chair and Business SA President) were just some of the impressive speakers on this year’s programme. Ten people from UK social enterprises were also there including Alex from the Grow Organisation, Margaret from the WISE Group, Ian from Pluss, Verity from FRC Group, Neil from the Social Enterprise Academy, John from Welsh SEC, and Kelly from Voluntary Action Highland. Everyone I spoke to from the UK and beyond appreciated the value and power of attending.

The conference ran for four days, one set aside for issues specific to Africa. We came away with commitments to work with our African friends to help develop a better social enterprise infrastructure, to help build a bigger movement based on community-owned economic development and to help catalyse a rebalancing of international grant aid to sustainable social enterprise investment.

After the conference I joined the international group tour, the programme excellently developed by Gerry Higgins, and expertly organised and managed by Lindsey – both from CEiS. Korea, USA, Canada, Australia and Germany were all represented in the group which helped maintain a pretty global perspective throughout the tour programme. SHAW Co is a social enterprise delivered from within the University of Cape Town and has a huge impact through a range of interventions across the townships of Cape Town. They are running exceptional nursery provision (I’m hoping that June from LEYF might want to develop a relationship with them). They are running five community-run health and wellbeing centres that seemed to be using the same model we developed at Sunlight. And they’re using medical students to deliver mobile health clinics as part of a more vocational and experiential curriculum.

At Zip Zap circus we were treated to range of performances that wouldn’t have looked out of place at any international arts platform. They put on a whole programme of events and use the income to create opportunities for any young person aged 7-18 to attend circus training for free in areas including performance, lighting, costume, administration, stage management and marketing. Over 150 young people, mainly from the townships are supported each year. There’s a few lessons here for UK arts organisations who are going to be facing severe challenges and could benefit, I’m sure, from a bit of Zip Zap inspiration. I’m hoping that a new relationship can be developed with our own social enterprise circuses here in the UK – namely No Fit State Circus who performed at VOICE 10 and Circus Space here in London.

Exploring a township

And so we learned, we shared, we contributed and we left. Inspired, energised and networked to exhaustion, but with a really grounded sense of the local and global challenges we collectively face. It felt great to leave with a mountain of new ideas of how we can continue to transfer innovative solutions across national boundaries and build the social enterprise movement not only here in the UK but worldwide too.

Thankfully my fears about South Africa from my first airport transfer were mostly misplaced, although there is clearly still much to be done culturally, structurally and legislatively to shift South Africa’s position as one of the most unequal societies on earth.

I look forward to reporting back on next year’s forum, taking place in Rio…!

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Well we’re back at SEC towers after a long but inspiring VOICE 11 and UK Social Enterprise Awards event.

We struggled in late this morning battered and bruised and with sore feet and drained batteries on our pedometers… I had clocked up 19,027 steps from the time I was pedded up at 12.30pm until the time I got to my bed at 4.30am. Given that I had been at The O2 since 7.30am I reckon I’m entitled to add at least another 10,000 steps to that total.

But getting in this morning was a treat; we shared the texts, tweets and emails and it was a joy. The overwhelming sentiment is that we got it mostly right; people have said that we listened to last year’s feedback, adapted the format and delivered what you had asked for and that for everyone good business was done. Some have fed back that based upon the business deals done yesterday that they’ll being employing extra staff and I hope that we hear and that you share many similar stories with us too. It’s really important we capture your experiences and stories from Voice11 so we can learn from you and expand the event’s future impact so please get in touch with us. We know the venue was cold, particularly for exhibitors, but I’m amazed that someone didn’t think to go buy some gloves, scarves and thermals and set up a pop up shop!

We at SEC can make all sorts of things happen but alas the weather was out of our control.

The People’s Food Company did a sterling job in keeping a constant supply of hot drinks available to delegates, which certainly helped stop the onset of hypothermia for many. We were delighted by the content of the live debates and they certainly created a stir in the twittersphere. The workshops we hear were practical, purposeful and covered the agendas you said you wanted.

I was delighted that Andrew Lansley chose Voice to announce another £10m worth of funding for social enterprise investment, I was thrilled that the Prime Minister had understood the uniqueness of the sector in his video message and that Nick Hurd was willing to roll up his sleeves and chair a fascinating debate on the future of CSR. Great too that Vince Cable was on hand to reiterate his department’s commitment to social enterprise as a great and sensible way of doing business sustainably. And it was fab to see M&S, BP, BBC, Diageo, Google Logica, Natwest, O2 and many other corporates send along senior executives to learn to listen and to understand.

We don’t have final numbers but we’re expecting the final count to be over 1300 attendees. The success is in large part down to the energy, ideas and business you brought with you so thanks for your enthusiastic support.

The awards have always been a personal highlight of the year for me. It was such a celebration, such a high spirited, friendly, exciting event. I spent lots of time with the winners from the heats and the UK nominees, and I know just how much the recognition means for them all. Ecovation were up against Stonelaw High School Traders for the Young Social Enterprise of the Year Award. Stonelaw took the UK prize back to Scotland and I thought it was incredibly touching when the 25 young people from Ecovation instinctively stood and gave their competitors an impassioned standing ovation when Stonelaw were announced as the winners.

All the winners and nominees were great. “The best day of our lives” said Ecovation, and they enthused this shortly after they’d found out that they hadn’t won the UK prize. What an outstanding group of young people we have within our movement.

Alexander Armstrong was on sparkling form, Ed Miliband said it was like being back with his extended family.

It was a truly great event. The tireless work, the long days, the reliance on sugar, caffeine and nurofen that staff here at SEC have had to endure are temporarily over. We will rest a bit, but not sit back on our laurels. We’ve got a lot to do. We want to know your Voice experiences, what you loved, what you hated and what we could have done better. And we want your ideas and vision for the next big event – planning will start soon.

I’m off to the Social Enterprise World Forum on Sunday so watch out for my tweets. In South Africa, alongside looking at how social enterprise can catalyze sustainable development, we’ll be working on a global campaign strategy to support Mohammad Yunus. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Thanks for your support and hello to our new members who joined yesterday. Welcome aboard.


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I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Social Enterprise Coalition offices as busy as they are now. We’re almost ready for what is turning into a spectacular Voice11, with a big final run on tickets in the last couple of days. When I say it’s not like anything we’ve done before, I really mean it. The online programme shows the massive breadth and sheer amount of stuff happening across the day. Delegates won’t know what to choose. It’s going to be like a festival where you’re not sure which act to see for fear of missing out (minus the alcohol of course – stay on for the Social Enterprise Awards for that!)

The build at The O2 has begun – the Live Quarter is being transformed. We listened to what people said after Voice10 in Cardiff and what they wanted next time so we hope it’s everything you asked for. As well as us having gone out there to bring you the most inspiring speakers and thinkers, it’s great that lots of people and organisations (including some VIPS) have come to us wanting to be at Voice11.

I can’t wait to see old friends from within the movement as well as welcome lots of new faces. It’ll be fantastic for us to be together under one (rather gigantic) roof. If you haven’t yet put your name down for the reception tonight, the day before the big event, please do.

From all the staff at SEC and our Board, we looking forward to seeing you and your colleagues there.


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