The Editor’s Post: Pre-election plot twist – last-minute ‘impact unit’ gambit from senior UK Labour figure

After weeks of silence from UK politicians on potential of social economy to tackle key challenges, former chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Timms calls for a Labour government to partner with the impact economy – better late than never. This week’s view from the Pioneers Post newsroom.

The UK’s impact sector received a last-minute pre-election fillip this week when a senior Labour party figure, Stephen Timms, called for an incoming Labour government (the party is the hot favourite to win today’s general election) to “forge a strategic partnership with the impact economy” and create an Office for the Impact Economy.

This comes after frustrating silences on the potential role of social investment and social enterprises to tackle the challenges facing the UK from all the major parties in the run-up to the election. As our reporter, Laura Joffre, highlighted in her story last week, the main party manifestos were devoid of any meaningful statements about the social economy, with social entrepreneur Bayo Adelaja saying the apparent lack of understanding of the sector by politicians was “downright insulting”.

What has made it even more dispiriting is that those of us who have been around long enough know full well that many of the former big names in all the main parties have a very good understanding of social enterprise and the impact economy. For whatever reason, however, they have chosen – until now at least – to stay silent.

Writing in CityAM, a London business-focused newspaper, Timms, a former chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “A Labour government should set up something like an Office for the Impact Economy – a joint Treasury-Business and Trade unit to partner with key stakeholders working to align socially motivated capital and business with our missions.”

Putting the impact economy at the heart of the government’s financial departments would please many (including former Conservative minister Nick Hurd), after it has languished neglected in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for too long.

In the article, Timms clearly defined the impact economy as encompassing philanthropists, social and impact investors, and businesses. He pointed out that more philanthropy could be unlocked to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges, talking about blending public and private capital, and flagged the potential of social outcomes contracts (as publicly backed by another Labour party big name, the former PM Gordon Brown, in recent weeks). 

He also flagged figures from a Demos analysis that suggested a potential £149bn boost to the UK GDP per year if businesses operated in a manner that purposely benefited society. 

Unsurprisingly, the UK impact sector is delighted with Timms’ intervention (and we can assume that it hasn’t appeared without a significant amount of behind-the-scenes lobbying). Tess Godley, Better Society Capital’s policy and advocacy director, declared that the team was “thrilled”, and added: “A Labour government would not go far in achieving their five missions without the support of social and impact investors, philanthropists and purpose-driven business. We invite decision-makers to join his call in collaborating with us to take on Britain’s knottiest social challenges together, with expert partners who are well versed in providing support to communities who need it.”

Now we just wait and see what the election reveals. And, as usual, we’ll be analysing the results in Pioneers Post.


This week's top stories

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Five ways the media and the impact community can spotlight solutions to global challenges


Header photo: Official portrait of Stephen Timms. Source: UK Parliament.

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