Social Enterprise UK on 2017

Nick Temple, Deputy CEO of Social Enterprise UK the national body for social enterprise, gives us his predictions and hopes for social enterprise in 2017, and three things he thinks we will see, and three he hopes we will.

Three Predictions

1) The dominant word from government and those seeking to influence them will be inclusion. Somebody jokingly said to me towards the end of 2016 that they expected us to be renaming Social Enterprise UK as Inclusive Economy UK to reflect the change of government tone and language, just as others have developed a tasting in recent months for ‘inclusive innovation’ and ‘inclusive growth’. There is also much to learn from others: the UNDP’s definition of inclusive growth is a very interesting one – [paraphrased] that growth is inclusive “when it takes place in the sectors in which the poor work, in the places where the poor live, uses and makes available the factors of production the poor possess and reduces the price of consumption items that the poor consume.” For social enterprises used to working in the most deprived areas, developing businesses with the assets and skills available, and using cross-subsidy and other models to invest in and make opportunities available in communities, all of this seems very apposite and relevant. Far from renaming ourselves, we just need to use the evidence we have to demonstrate why social enterprise needs to be at the heart of any inclusive and localised industrial strategy.

2) While Brexit will continue to dominate and jam up the wheels of government, there will be increasing movement around the sides of this and in advance of UK leaving Europe. In social enterprise terms, one of the big prizes is commissioning and procurement, and there are some interesting recent developments with regard to buses, steel and other areas that show government (or at least parts of it) are starting to think more seriously about getting the maximum social and environmental value from the money it spends. We will see more of this in 2017, particularly with regard to infrastructure spending, and through more consistent, improved application of the Social Value Act. Again, the logic in the current climate, whether it comes through the Act or not, is simply too compelling.

3) Skills and talent will rise up the agenda in the social enterprise world. As the movement has matured, so have the approaches to bid-writing, systems, branding, sales, marketing, impact management (and measurement) and financing, but the investment in skills and talent is mixed – and we are often less than the sum of our parts. There are those with significant initiatives already (see GLL College or Nottingham City Care’s Workforce Development) and significant experience in apprenticeships across a wide range of organisations – but it feels like in some areas (operations, finance, data) and at some levels (COO, non-execs) there is work to be done. We identify growing awareness and understanding of this in our membership and work will follow.

Three Hopes

1) I hope that the growth of attention on incrementalism and maintenance continues to increase. If you haven’t clocked this, it’s a (much-belated) reaction to the dominant dogma of innovation and disruption, which has been as widely embraced in the social sector as elsewhere. For example, check out the Freakonomics podcast episodes In Praise of Maintenance and In Praise of Incrementalism. Let’s not forget or ignore the foundations and the infrastructure that those ‘overnight’ breakthroughs are based on. See also The Maintainers conference and Dan Gregory’s paper, That New Car Smell  (pdf) on social innovation and civil society.

2) I hope that the potential of social enterprise in health and social care starts to be realised. It’s a source of bafflement to me that the achievements of social enterprises are either viewed as too small or an ‘aside’ to the system. Some of this is because of the dominance of A&E and GP practices in the public’s mind; some of it is about the incessant short-termism (as if a Five Year Forward View was ever going to be even close to a long enough time horizon); some of it is about initiative-itis and death by initials (I’ll see your CSU with a CCG and raise you a vanguard, an MCP and top it all with an STP); and some of it is about being busy with more urgent issues (see social care financing / junior doctors). But there also seems to be a blind spot to the outstanding performance of many social enterprises (and charities) in the field – in all the areas that are needed: public health, integration, prevention, intervention, productivity, engagement; all while doing so *in the black*. Of course the problems facing health and social care are far bigger than social enterprise (we need a 30 year cross-party commission & agreement, in my opinion), but the answers and solutions they hold are currently lying somewhere between ignored and overlooked – we have work to do here, starting with our Fit for the Future conference.

3) It felt in 2016 that the Buy Social message was breaking through: though it is long, slow and at times complex work, we are now seeing millions of pounds spent with social enterprises by companies in their supply chains. I hope we see more catching on, and that we see universities ‘buying social’ as well – and even big charities: neither group has really bitten as yet, but the logic of using the money we already spend to achieve our shared goals is undeniable at a time when resources are constrained in every sector. As with the companies, if we can work with a couple of pioneers, we can start to build awareness, momentum and demonstrate what is possible. Here is Kevin Ellis, Chairman & Senior Partner at PwC on the potential of the idea: Big firms can enhance social mobility in 2017 by committing to buy from social enterprises.

Wishing you all an enterprising and successful 2017.

Nick Temple
Deputy CEO, Social Enterprise UK