Duncan Thorp: census reveals full impact of social enterprise

Well-known examples of social enterprise include The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate and the Homeless World Cup. 'Picture: Neil Hanna
Well-known examples of social enterprise include The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate and the Homeless World Cup. 'Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE sector is ever more vital, writes Duncan Thorp

As public awareness of social enterprise increases, so do the questions about what they actually contribute to Scotland’s economy and society. What’s been missing is hard statistics demonstrating the practical impact of Scotland’s social enterprise businesses. We’ve now solved this issue with the launch of the results of Social Enterprise in Scotland: Census 2015.

Social enterprises are businesses set up to deliver a specific social and/or environmental mission. This could mean employing homeless people, providing social housing, recycling waste or something else that profits society. They aim to make money like any other business, but invest 100 per cent of it in their social purpose. Well-known examples include The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate and the Homeless World Cup.

The powerful impact of our social enterprise businesses has now been revealed for the very first time, with the welcome publication of these census results. The research, commissioned by a range of public and social enterprise organisations, demonstrates the huge diversity and spread across every urban and rural community in Scotland.

The headline results show there are more than 5,000 social enterprises in Scotland, with over 200 new social enterprises being formed each year. The Highlands and Islands has 22 per cent of all social enterprises, with Edinburgh and Glasgow accounting for 26 per cent, Scotland-wide employing more than 112,000 people. Sixty-eight per cent of social enterprises deal directly with members of the public, so there is a route to raising awareness of the “brand” to bigger audiences.

Scotland’s social enterprises have £1.15 billion in combined traded income, with net collective assets of £3.86bn and a Gross Value Added (GVA) figure of approximately £1.7bn. These strong figures compare well to other sectors of the economy. For example, social enterprises employ around the same number as Scotland’s food and drink sector, more than the energy or creative industries sectors and well over half the numbers working in our financial sector. Seventy-five per cent of social enterprises employ more than half their workforce locally, too.As you might imagine, the size, growth and development of credit unions and housing associations, in particular, underpins the social enterprise community with solid foundations.

Social enterprises are also leading the way in terms of progressive business practices. An impressive 60 per cent have a woman as their most senior employee, with 68 per cent of social enterprises paying at least the authentic Living Wage.

• Duncan Thorp, Policy and Communications Officer, Social Enterprise Scotland