Follow up the fanfare with tangible outcomes

Pleased, enthused, disappointed and ready to do more. Social Enterprise UK CEO Peter Holbrook says it's not the first social enterprise strategy he's seen – but there's hope there if we follow through the vision.

Credit where credit is due, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock promised us a Civil Society strategy which would have a bold vision for the future and this strategy certainly has big ambition.

The strategy says the right things and I am pleased that real effort has been made to connect this strategy with the rest of government and get the buy-in from the rest of Whitehall. With all due respect to DCMS, if we are going to really change our society then we need the full machinery of government backing social enterprise not just one department – however supportive it is!

It is vital that we don’t see this as the end of the story. We all know that government strategies are often announced with big fanfare and put then are left to gather dust on the shelf. This agenda is simply too important to leave it to Ministers and officials to do all the running. Social enterprises need to push government to act so that good intentions turn into tangible outcomes.

I am enthused by the government’s recognition of the special role that young people have to play in building our future. We know that more and more, they  want to set up and work for companies which have a social and environmental mission rather than just a focus on making profit for shareholders. If government really wants to reach out to young people, then it must commit to social enterprise more fully.

Looking at the specifics there are a number of positive initiatives which Social Enterprise UK has called for and that we are pleased to see in the strategy. Firstly, we do need to see more work across government in supporting social enterprise. The creation of a new forum to coordinate relations with government is welcome, but this forum must have teeth and representation from all departments. It also needs to have an independent voice so that government listens to the needs of the social enterprise sector.

We were disappointed that the government missed the potential of social enterprises to deliver its Industrial Strategy. But the recently announced reforms to Local Enterprise Partnerships creates a chance for social enterprises to shape new Local Industrial Strategies. It is great to see the strategy recognising the importance of LEPs, particularly given that they will be responsible for spending the new Shared Prosperity Fund which will replace EU funding. We must work together to ensure that social enterprises and civil society organisations are represented on LEP boards so that we deliver strategies which really boost standards of living across the country.

We are not going to see change, however, without reforming the private sector. We often focus on the public sector, but the vast majority of activity in our society takes place outside it. We need businesses to be aligned our values as a society and which protect the planet. We will be supporting the government’s new Responsible Business Leadership Group to consider what more businesses can do to support society and to deliver on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Spending with and supporting the development of social enterprises both at home and around the world must be part of that agenda.

Finally, I couldn’t finish without referencing the changes to the Social Value Act. Social Enterprise UK has been championing social value since the very beginning. The Act continues to go on a journey and SEUK will be supporting it every step of the way until all spending decisions, in the public and private sector, consider social, environmental and economic factors. We welcome the commitment by government to better measure social value. We also support extending social value to planning decisions and community asset transfers where public bodies need to consider wider factors than just finances. Social value can help communities get the outcomes that they want and ensure their buy-in as the government tries to increase housing and support economic development.  

This needs to be underpinned by better data about the current level of implementation of the Social Value Act. We are going to be launching a State of Social Value survey soon which will help us benchmark usage of the Act and support this strategy’s aspiration to improve uptake. We will be working with central and local government to make this data as effective as possible.

This is not the first government strategy on social enterprise that I have seen and we must not get ahead of ourselves. The vision has been set out, now we must make ministers live up to it. Unless we put social enterprise at the heart of our economy, we will fail to build a future that truly works for everyone.