Mission-led business review panel void of social business voices, says SEUK boss

"Where are the voices of social enterprises and co-operatives?" CEO of Social Enterprise UK Peter Holbrook responds to the launch of the UK government's mission-led business review.

The Cabinet Office has put out a call for evidence on mission-led businesses. In short, they want to know how they can support ‘profit-driven businesses that make a powerful commitment to social impact’ to grow so that they can tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Britain.
We’re behind the Minister’s (Rob Wilson’s) ambition that every business could be a mission-led business – indeed, strengthening the social responsibility of mainstream businesses is to be fostered. There is little to be gained by businesses that are the polar opposites of each other furiously driving their own agendas. Social businesses in one corner, holier than thou but too few scaling up and making an impact, versus mainstream businesses in the other corner, stripping local communities of wealth and feeding the insatiable appetites of hungry shareholders or sending it overseas. But in the world of social investment, these two very different worlds (and cultures) are colliding – and not with the results that we in the social economy sector had necessarily hoped for. 

Where are the voices of social enterprises and co-operatives?

Credit where it’s due, this Government has grabbed social investment with both hands and got it off the ground. It’s not been pretty, but you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs (and heads). However, judging by the nature of the review’s advisory panel, the government is intending to broaden the social investment market by watering down the definition of what 'social' is. This is truly puzzling.

Whilst we must acknowledge that social investment is a market with currently too few takers, there are alternatives. One – improve the product. Two – build capacity of start-ups to increase supply of investment-ready social enterprises. Three – raise awareness amongst commissioners to create more opportunities. All of these could make much better use of the limited resources available.

It’s a downright shame that the expert advisory panel is missing authentic voices of recognised, established and trusted social businesses. Where are the historical insights of the likes of Timpson, Rowntree, John Lewis, Lush, and decades of Quaker-inspired businesses? Where are the voices of social enterprises and co-operatives bringing their expertise in the field? And what about those that were social and no longer are, like The Body Shop?

The panel and review would get a much richer picture if it drew on the experience of a wider set of perspectives. It’s also strange that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills do not appear to be involved in the review – they need to be. If civil society organisations, traditional businesses and investors are to be brought together on the ground, then they need to be brought together in the policy-making spheres of our government too.


The expert panel members have been announced as:

  • Nigel Wilson (CEO, Legal & General Group plc)
  • Natalie Campbell (Founding Partner, A Very Good Company)
  • Luke Johnson (Founder and Chairman, Centre for Entrepreneurs)
  • Loughlin Hickey (Trustee, Blueprint for Better Business)
  • Andrew Goodman (Partner, McKinsey & Company)
  • Marcello Palazzi (Founder, Progressio Foundation)
  • Antony Ross (Partner, Bridges Ventures)
  • Annika Small (Co-founder, Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology)
  • Frank Welvaert (Managing Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust)
  • Monique Villa (CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation)


To read more about the government's mission-led business review in our global social innovation round-up, click here.

Photo credit: Social Enterprise UK