Agenda: Time for social enterprise to raise ambitions

SOCIAL entrepreneurship has, for several decades now, provided much-needed small-scale services operating at the heart of our communities. However, while this model continues to thrive, it no longer provides an entirely accurate representation of the scope, abilities and ambitions of the wider social enterprise community.

Over the past month alone, we have seen two announcements from Scottish social enterprises which are notable for their ambition. Glasgow-based Locavore has opened the largest ethical supermarket in Scotland in Edinburgh, and Willow Den has opened Scotland’s first ever outdoor nursery in a football stadium, in partnership with Spartans CFA, as part of a chain of outdoor nurseries.

Both are shining examples of the ability for social enterprise to scale-up, fulfilling a consumer need in direct competition with traditional market economics.

Ambitions for growth must be driven, primarily, by social entrepreneurs. But there are other factors which must also come into play, including appropriate funding mechanisms. However, perhaps most importantly, we need a step change in Scotland’s economic attitude towards social enterprise.

While Scotland has been quick to champion its support for social enterprise over the past 10 years, it seems we are missing a trick by failing to mainstream social enterprise services within our economy.

Take the Scottish Government’s new National Care Service for Scotland for example. Billed as the biggest public service reform in decades, it represents a prime opportunity for social enterprises to be involved in delivering care for our communities. Indeed, with nearly 800 social enterprises working in the health and social care sector, surely it would make sense to involve those organisations who are operating at the heart of our communities, in the design and delivery. The delivery is yet to come. However, the contract for design of the service was awarded to the private sector with little consideration given to public involvement.

Sadly ,this is not an isolated example of social enterprise being left on the sidelines. There are cases of social enterprises specialising in childcare being overlooked by local authorities for provision of local services solely due to their social enterprise status. Hopefully, incoming reforms can address these issues, but the awarding of a contract to a global consultancy doesn’t engender much confidence that things will change.

The good news is that there is still time for change. The Scottish Government is still to publish its strategy for transforming Scotland’s economy, aimed at creating a more prosperous and fairer economy and society for all. Initial feedback from stakeholders suggested that the draft was too focused on free market economics and not enough on well-being, with little consideration given to the role of social enterprise in public service delivery.

Hopefully those concerns have been heeded and we’ll see a revised strategy which truly draws upon the expertise within our social enterprises. If Scotland truly wants to realise its ambition of building a well-being economy then it is imperative that our social entrepreneurs – effectively our experts in wellbeing economics – should be at the heart of these plans.

Alastair Davis is CEO, Social Investment Scotland

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