Social Enterprise City in the Houses of Parliament

I was invited by Social Enterprise UK to speak about how Plymouth is developing as a Social Enterprise City at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Enterprise at the Houses of Parliament this week. This group has a remit to promote social enterprise across the country.

It was chaired by Chris White MP – who is well known for introducing the Social Value Act – and Hazel Blears MP. Baroness Thornton also attended. I’m pleased to say that Oliver Colvile, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and a researcher for Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon also attended to find out more about our work.

Firstly, many thanks to those who sent me comments ahead of the event. It is always useful to get PSEN members thoughts on the issues relevant to them. This way PSEN can better represent the views of our members.

The first half of the meeting was taken up discussing the Social Value Act. The recent review by Lord Young was also discussed. There was broad agreement that the act was a good start but that there was a lot to do. It seems that, while there is lots of good practice at local level, national government is still a long way behind others.

There was a talk by Tom Fox of UnLtd about social entrepreneurship. His comments about the need for business support rang true for me – especially in Plymouth where we lack a coherent wrap-around business support scheme for social enterprises either at start-up or growth stages.

The Social Economy Alliance Manifesto – well worth a read – describes some great ideas for the next government to consider to support the development of the social economy.

There was an interesting talk about community energy and trying to encourage the ‘right to invest’ in local renewable energy schemes plus also talk of how to promote and encourage community owned energy – something I’m proud to say Plymouth are again ahead of the game on with Plymouth Energy Community. The UK lags far behind Denmark and Germany on issues such as renewables and community ownership.

I then spoke about Plymouth. SEUK wanted to highlight a couple of the social enterprise places they are supporting. There are now 11 social enterprise places – details here – across the country. As you know Plymouth and Bristol were the first Social Enterprise Cities announced in 2013. PSEN led the bid with Plymouth City Council and Plymouth University as key partners.

My talk covered a basic introduction to Plymouth and some scene setting about some of the social and environment issues such as how:

• Plymouth ranks very poorly for entrepreneurship and business creation
• There are very wide health inequalities with life expectancy varying by up to 12 years in different parts of the city,
• 54% of deaths are caused by 4 chronic diseases that are caused by 4 preventable lifestyle choices
• Nearly 1 in 3 of adults in Plymouth is overly in debt, one of the highest levels in the country.

There are more issues, of course. I mentioned some of the social enterprises tackling these issues – we have credit unions, dementia focussed social enterprises, healthcare, dentists, recycling, training, etc. That we have social enterprises operating in sport, art, business services, premises, housing, social care and much more. The diversity of the sector is incredible.

I talked about PSEN’s work, about how our members bring in £500 million to the local economy and employ 7,000. This picture is skewed by several very large players – Plymouth Community Healthcare, Plymouth Community Homes, Plymouth University and PLUSS. These are all brilliant large scale, multi-million pound social enterprises. However, the median income for social enterprises is £100,000 and 2 in 5 businesses turnover under £50k. I described the ‘missing middle’ – the need for social enterprises to grow. We need more social enterprises operating at the £250k to £1m level.

I highlighted the key things I think Social Enterprise City has helped with, these being:

• Social Value Act – we’ve had some good engagement with the council on this. They have developed a ‘Cooperative Commissioning Framework’ that embeds social value. PSEN delivered training with procurement and commissioning officers. However, other parts of the public sector still tricky to find – there is work to do to engage the Police, Fire, DWP, MOD etc.
• Social Saturday – we held 9 events in Plymouth – there were 30 in the country.
SeedBed Incubator – this is one of only six ‘social incubators’ across the country and is run by Plymouth University and Dartington Hall Trust. Social Enterprise City was a key part of winning the bid.
• Asset transfers – some exciting examples happening – Devonport Markethall
Plymouth City Council’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund – This has seen £500k invested into social enterprises in Plymouth to help them grow. This fund is exactly what social enterprises need – it is very flexible, a mix grants and loans. Access to finance is a major issue for social enterprises. This is now committed and we are looking to extend this.
• Media – there has been good involvement with local newspapers, particularly the Plymouth Herald.
• International links have been developed with Social enterprise Alliance Massachusetts leading up to the 2020 Mayflower 400 celebrations.
• Flagship has been our Social Enterprise Festival, every November. Last year we had great support from SEUK. Over the last few years over 2,000 people have attended various social enterprise events including 100s of young people.
Future Business events – these are a series of inspiring talks by renowned social entrepreneurs. We’ve had Rubies in the Rubble, From Babies With Love, Belu Water speak. Others lined up include: Streetleague, – a football social enterprise tackling youth unemployment and we are delighted that the national women’s social enterprise champion, June O’Sullivan MBE of London Early Years Forum, is coming to talk in Plymouth in March.
• Directory and app – this is a practical and basic thing but when, in 2012 we produced our first directory, I think it was fair to say it marked a step change in the way social enterprise was perceived in the city. We need to update this – there have been many new members and changes in the political and economic landscape to reflect. We will also produce a downloadable app so anyone can find a social enterprise near them that sells what they need. This will be launched on 25th March.

I also talked about some of the key challenges we face as a social enterprise sector:

• The business support environment and the lack of a wraparound service to support social entrepreneurs from the ideas phase, through start-up and then to help them grow.
• Engagement with the Local Enterprise Partnership is patchy and keeping social enterprise on the agenda is always a struggle.
• That PSEN is successful but is still a relatively new, fragile organization

I also talked about some of the plans for the future:

• Cementing a business support offer for start-up and growth.
• We need up-to-date and improved evidence of our impact. We’ve got some good economic impact data but we need to prove our social impact better.
• Social Value – we’ve made a good start but need to keep this on the agenda and widen links to other public sector providers
• Continue to engage young people – that every young person in Plymouth should have a social enterprise experience at school
• Continuing to develop international links. Mayflower 400 a big deal!
• PCC’s SEIF – we would like to see this continued and enhanced.
• Public awareness – we need to use Social Enterprise City status to keep at this constantly. We need social enterprises to be in the press, the media, social media etc. This is hugely important politically, culturally and socially.

So in summary, I said that Social Enterprise City has been a great way to get social enterprise into the public consciousness of Plymouth. It has opened doors with some commissioners; it has brought more media attention and raised awareness. It has directly brought more cash to social enterprises. However, we can’t rest on our laurels, there is much more to do if we want to see an economy we want.

PSEN is working hard, with partners, to see a city where social enterprise is central to the way we do business. We need a ‘high street social enterprise revolution’. We want to inspire anyone thinking about starting a business in Plymouth to consider that they could make that business a social enterprise.

Look at shops and businesses across the country and you’ll find social enterprises in action. There are social enterprise florists, hairdressers, accountants, shoe shops, sports shops, and stationery suppliers. There are book shops, bike shops, bakeries, banks, photographers, cafes, car garages, chemists, libraries, even travel agents.

We need to create millions of everyday conversations about social enterprise. We need to get people talking about social enterprise in their homes; around the dinner table, at the school gates, in sports clubs, around the water cooler in offices.

To me that is the power of the social enterprise places idea and Social Enterprise City. We really can create a vibrant social economy, make business a force for good and change the world for the better.

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