Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have been created to lead economic growth and job creation within local areas in England. Where previously there were nine Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), we now have 39 LEPs covering almost every part of England, varying significantly in size and scale. So far, so uninteresting - so why should social enterprises care?
Well, most of their work is often done locally, and they are big economic and employment contributors...so you can start to see why. And then top that off with the fact that LEP areas are being allocated £5.2 billion of EU structural funds for the next seven years (2014 to 2020), and they become more important still.
EU funds have often been important for social enterprises across the country in delivering different services, programmes of work and partnerships, and will no doubt remain so for many.
On to the good news - generally, the LEPs have done a pretty good job of engagement with the sector (and vice versa) so far, resulting in the fact that every single draft LEP strategy mentions social enterprise in some form or another.
More pertinently, having reviewed all the strategies, we found that an impressive number have plans for engaging with social enterprises and involving them in their growth plans. This is good news if we can work with them to deliver the plans and turn the paperwork into action.
What is most encouraging of all is that social enterprises are no longer being put 'in the social inclusion box', which is EU geek-speak for the fact that charities and social enterprises tend to be viewed as only being able to address the social inclusion objective ('reducing poverty and supporting disadvantaged individuals') - and, indeed, 28 LEPs do include social enterprises in that area.
But almost as many (23) include social enterprise in the area of small to medium enterprise alongside viewing them as small businesses, while 15 include social enterprise (rightly) under the objectives of innovation and skills respectively.
Social enterprise can also be found under 'employment' and 'low carbon' in several areas' plans. Social investment also makes an appearance in 19 strategies, with half a dozen LEPs already well advanced in their plans for local investment or local impact funds.
All of this shows that social enterprise is beginning to be recognised for its ability to deliver in multiple areas: skills, employment, business start-up, competitiveness environment, innovation, inward investment and more.
Those in the sector, especially regional and local social enterprise networks, have done a great job thus far on ensuring social enterprise is written through many of these strategies.
The findings in our report, Building Local Economies
, give social enterprises some initial knowledge about what is in the plans at this stage and how they might therefore seek to be involved, in engagement and delivery, in future. We will continue to monitor and work with our local and regional partners to try and ensure information is kept up to date.
As we tend to say about social enterprise business plans, though, we see a lot of good plans and not many good businesses - so the real challenge now begins. Much work is needed to turn these strategies, which will be signed off and confirmed at the end of January, into action on the ground.
That means being ready and prepared for the opportunities that are there, and the ones that may arise - and being ready to deliver on what is at the heart of many of these strategies: helping to regenerate and support the communities that need it most.
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