Coming councils must put needs of social enterprises at the forefront

Voters at  Liberton Kirk Halls Polling Station and Gilmerton Community Centre
Voters at Liberton Kirk Halls Polling Station and Gilmerton Community Centre
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On Thursday 4 May voters will go to the polls for Scotland’s local authority elections. While there may be a sense of election/referendum fatigue, the election is vital in terms of public services and for the quality of life in our streets and neighbourhoods.

Though local authorities (and equally local communities) should be given more powers, many people don’t realise how much influence councils already have over our daily lives. This includes housing, schools, social work, economic development, arts and sport, waste and recycling, street lighting, licensing for taxis and pubs, transport and more.

Councils and other local bodies are often the first point of contact for social enterprises, whether that’s as customers, for business support, funding, influencing policies or getting access to decision making and contracts. But barriers still exist for social enterprises in many areas – and indeed for many private sector small, local businesses too.

Social enterprises operate in most parts of urban and rural Scotland. They’re businesses that exist for a specific social purpose and give all their profits to that purpose. That could be social housing, helping excluded young people get into jobs, running a community-owned sports centre or tackling a wide range of 
other social or environmental challenges.

Social Enterprise Scotland recently conducted an open consultation for our draft manifesto, that was open to any social enterprise. In Every Corner of Scotland is the result.

The manifesto emphasises that social entrepreneurs share the same values as public sector employees. In this spirit we should work together to empower individuals, drive public service change, help the most excluded, improve the environment and strengthen local democracy.

We want to be clear that social enterprise is about jobs and wealth creation, potential cost savings to local authority budgets – and stopping the leakage of local money for shareholder profits many miles away. We’re also about the delivery of value added public services and greater flexibility, innovation and efficiency.

The manifesto gets straight to the point and is concise and achievable. We believe that the actions within it would greatly benefit local communities, social enterprises and local authorities.

Specifically, the manifesto calls for such things as a local social enterprise strategy in every area. Increasing numbers of local areas now have Social Enterprise Networks (SENs) and a local strategy but we need these everywhere, learning from other parts of Scotland and aligning with the national, ten-year social enterprise strategy.

Social entrepreneurs often tell us that there are barriers for participation in local forums and decision-making bodies.

So we’re calling on all officers and elected members to ensure that opportunities are available for the social enterprise voice to be genuinely heard in every arena.

Councils can choose to buy catering, venue space, training, stationary and a wide range of goods and services from social enterprises. As well as driving forward procurement reform and access to contracts, councils should help promote the purchase of social enterprise goods across the community.

We also need a commitment to the protection and enhancement of third sector and social enterprise budgets. Councils should help provide affordable business loans too and we’d like to see strong promotion of credit union membership.

Finally, we’re urging Councillors and those working for local authorities to reach out to bodies such as Social Enterprise Scotland and Ready for Business for support. Many already do but they should all be aware of the wide variety of support that’s available.

The manifesto has been sent out far and wide. We’ll follow this up after the election too, in harmony with the new, national ten-year Social Enterprise Strategy. If election candidates, political parties and council officials support the policies in the manifesto they’ll fulfil their remit to serve the public in every part of Scotland.

For any questions, comments or requests for information about social enterprise in Scotland, contact: 0131 243 2650 / duncan.thorp@socialenterprisescotland.org.uk

Duncan Thorp, Policy and Communications Officer, Social Enterprise Scotland