Has Johnson forgotten social enterprise? UK remains without civil society minister nine days after reshuffle begins

UK social enterprise leaders have been holding their breath for a week since the role of minister for civil society was left vacant on 17 September. 

Baroness Barran, who had held the position since July 2019, announced last Friday evening that she was being moved to a position in the Department for Education during the UK government reshuffle. Her successor was yet to be appointed as of the morning of Friday 24 September.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, where the civil society minister sits, told Pioneers Post on Friday that one minister was still to be appointed and portfolios would be allocated after that, but confirmed the civil society brief would remain with DCMS and not be moved to another department.

Baroness_Barran_Official_PortraitUpon departure, Baroness Barran tweeted: “Great honour to be appointed to ministerial team. Excited to get to work but first… HUGE THANKS to Civil Society and Youth team for all your support. Also to all the charities, social enterprises for all the work you do - esp during the past 18 months.

“It has been the most difficult time and you have stepped up and delivered for our communities. Supported of course by brilliant volunteers whose generosity has been extraordinary. Thanks too to all the funders and philanthropists who have partnered with us in the past year.”

In the Scottish government, social entrepreneurship is under the responsibility of the minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise, currently Ivan McKee MSP.

In Wales, the social enterprise brief is held by the minister of economy, currently Vaughan Gething MS. In the Northern Ireland Executive, communities minister Deirdre Hargey is in charge of social enterprises. 


Danny Kruger, Andy Haldane in ‘levelling up’ roles

Meanwhile, UK prime minister Boris Johnson's reshuffle (when government ministers can be moved between departments, appointed or dismissed by the Prime Minister) has demonstrated a greater focus on the “levelling up” agenda – the government’s pledge to reduce place-based inequalities in the country. Many of those working in social enterprise and social investment argue their organisations can play a key role in this agenda.

Official_portrait_of_Danny_Kruger_MPThe Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is to be renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and headed by Michael Gove. Danny Kruger, former expert adviser on civil society at DCMS, has joined the department as parliamentary private secretary.

The Conservative MP published a report on levelling up last year, which highlighted the potential of communities in helping revive ‘left-behind’ parts of the country. He also heads a conservative-leaning think tank, the New Social Covenant Unit, with a mission to share “old-new set of ideas in British politics”. 

As ‘civil society tsar’ in 2018, Kruger promised to give social enterprises their "own voice" in government. As of last week social enterprises still sat with charities within the civil society brief in DCMS.

Also this week, ​​Andy Haldane, former chief economist of the Bank of England, was appointed head of the “levelling up taskforce” at the Cabinet Office. Haldane is to join as a permanent secretary for six months on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

He said: “I look forward to working with colleagues across government, local and national, and with the private and voluntary sectors, to design and deliver an economy that works for every part of the UK.”


Six ministers in 11 years

A former City banker turned charity founder, Barran was made a Conservative peer in 2018, and appointed civil society minister in July 2019 in the first Boris Johnson government.

Her successor will become the seventh civil society minister in 11 years. Nick Hurd, who oversaw the creation of Big Society Capital, was the first to hold the position between 2010 and 2014. Prior to 2010, the social entrepreneurship brief was given to various junior ministers in the Blair and Brown governments, including Ed Milband who was minister for the third sector in 2006-2007.

Civil society ministers after Hurd included Brooks Newmark, who was in the post for just two months; Rob Wilson (nearly three years), Tracey Crouch (one year and a half) and Mims Davies (eight months).

The civil society brief was moved from the Cabinet Office into DCMS in 2016. Since then Social Enterprise UK and others have campaigned for it to be moved into the department for business, so far without success.

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