Agenda: It’s time for the social enterprise to raise its ambitions

SOCIAL entrepreneurship has been providing much-needed small-scale services to the heart of our communities for decades. However, while this model continues to thrive, it no longer provides a fully accurate representation of the reach, capabilities and ambitions of the broader social enterprise community.

In the last month alone, we have seen two announcements from Scottish social enterprises that stand out for their ambition. Glasgow-based Locavore opened Scotland’s largest ethical supermarket in Edinburgh, and Willow Den opened Scotland’s first-ever outdoor nursery in a football stadium, in partnership with Spartans CFA, as part of a chain of outdoor crèches.

Both are shining examples of the ability of social enterprise to grow, responding to a consumer need in direct competition with the traditional market economy.

Growth ambitions must be driven, first and foremost, by social entrepreneurs. But other factors must also come into play, including appropriate financing mechanisms. However, and perhaps most importantly, we need a step change in Scotland’s economic attitude towards social enterprise.

Although Scotland has been quick to defend its support for social enterprise over the past 10 years, it seems we are missing a trick in failing to integrate social enterprise services into our economy.

Take for example the Scottish Government’s new National Care Service for Scotland. Considered the biggest civil service reform in decades, it represents a great opportunity for social enterprises to get involved in delivering care to our communities. Indeed, with nearly 800 social enterprises working in the health and social services sector, it would certainly make sense to involve those organizations that operate at the heart of our communities, in design and delivery. Delivery is yet to come. However, the service design contract was awarded to the private sector without considering public involvement.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example of social enterprise being left behind. There are cases of social enterprises specializing in childcare which are neglected by local authorities for the provision of local services solely because of their social enterprise status. Hopefully forthcoming reforms can address these issues, but awarding a contract to a global consultancy does not engender much confidence that things will change.

The good news is that there is still time to change. The Scottish Government has yet to publish its strategy for transforming the Scottish economy, aiming to create a more prosperous and fairer economy and society for all. Early feedback from stakeholders suggested that the project was too market-oriented and not welfare-oriented enough, with little consideration given to the role of social enterprise in public service delivery.

Hopefully these concerns have been heard and we will see a revised strategy that truly builds on the expertise of our social enterprises. If Scotland is serious about realizing its ambition to build a wellbeing economy, it is imperative that our social entrepreneurs – indeed our wellbeing economics experts – are at the heart of these plans.

Alastair Davis is CEO of Social Investment Scotland

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