From Britain to Brussels, social enterprise wins popularity contest

New Conservative government policy in the UK and an enthusiastic European Union make for an enabling environment for social enterprises, said London-based academic Alex Murdock this morning. 

The emeritus professor of not for profit management and leadership at London South Bank University told social enterprise leaders at the NatWest SE100 Insight event in Edinburgh: “You are popular with the Conservative Government.”

Reflecting on what he describes as the “very political budget”, announced by chancellor George Osborne earlier this month, Murdock said that social enterprises in the top half of the country “may be the beneficiaries” of the government’s commitment to developing a northern powerhouse. “Watch this space. You’ve got a Conservative government that is aware it is vulnerable of being just the party of the southern rich,” he said. 

The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto stated: “We will give more people the power and support to run a school, start their own social enterprise, and take over their own local parks, landmarks and pubs.” 

Interestingly, Murdock pointed out that a similar stance was taken in the 2015 Labour Party manifesto, which read: “Our charities, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises are pioneering new models of production that enhance social value, promote financial inclusion, and give individuals and communities power and control. We will continue to support and help develop the social economy by improving access for co-operative and mutual organisations to growth finance through the new British Investment Bank.”

Social enterprise is popular but Murdock warned that this raises concerns about authenticity in the sector: “Some of us academics are a little dubious about the nature of some of the registered Community Interest Companies."

“The 2012 Small Business Survey put the number of social enterprises at 283,800. In comparison there are 170,000 charities in England and Wales. Do you really think there are one and a half times more social enterprises than charities?” Murdock asked.

The professor also reflected on momentum around social enterprise in the European context. “The European Union is very heavily into social enterprise. They conceptualise it through three aspects – the social dimension, an entrepreneurial dimension (which I think we would all agree to) but also the government dimension," he said. 

And while the UK is often referred to as a leader in social enterprise and impact investment, Murdock is more sceptical. “I don’t regard the UK as the leader in legal structures for the social economy in Europe – I think Italy is, with its A and B type cooperatives,” he said. 

Murdock highlighted a future area where he felt social enterprises were currently missing a trick: the sharing economy. “This is a really hot button – the collaborative economy, the sharing economy. It’s an area where I have to say I think social enterprise is not necessarily picking up on the opportunities,” he concluded, citing Taskrabbit and BlaBlacar as excellent organisations operating in this space.


Header photo: Professor Alex Murdock

The NatWest SE100 Index is an online listing of social ventures, ranked and scored according to their growth and social impact. The live market intelligence platform is designed to provide a substantial data resource for investors, commissioners and policymakers as they seek to understand the landscape of the social economy and identify top performers across the UK.

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