Social enterprise is one way to make a difference

Social enterprise is one way to work together to make a difference, writes Andrew Dunlop. Picture: Contributed

Social enterprise is one way to work together to make a difference, writes Andrew Dunlop. Picture: Contributed

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SOCIAL enterprise is one way to work together to make a difference, writes Andrew Dunlop

It was Burns who asked for the gift of being able to see ourselves as others see us. If you are a government minister, as I am rapidly learning, you get that opportunity more than most – and while I would never dare contradict Scotland’s national poet, if he were alive today, I might warn him to be careful what he wished for.

In politics, perception and reality are rarely in alignment.

For example, you may think that as a UK government minister, I am at dirks drawn with my opposite numbers in the Scottish government. In truth, at both official and ministerial level, Scotland’s two governments actually have an excellent working relationship.

On a more personal level, it was a surprise for me to learn I was the brains behind the poll tax – not least because it isn’t true.

I was in the No 10 policy unit, but joined long after the poll tax was devised. My areas were defence procurement, employment and training. One contribution I was able to make was to help create Scottish Enterprise, turning a great idea by Bill Hughes of Grampian Holdings into government policy.

Equally, I was intrigued to find out I wasn’t really Scottish. This will be news to my parents, who live in the Highlands, and my brothers and sister, who also still live in the country of our birth.

As it happens, I went to school in Glasgow, university in Edinburgh and my great-grandfather was Thomas Dunlop, Lord Provost of Glasgow and one of the people who, in the aftermath of the First World War, helped created the Earl Haig Fund in Scotland.

The one charge I will hold my hands up to is that I have worked – and will continue to work – closely with David Cameron and George Osborne.

That did help in brokering the £1 billion Glasgow City Deal within Whitehall.

I mention this merely to point out the realities and challenge some of the myths.

My eyes were wide open when I took this job; I accepted it because I wanted to make a difference, to be a force for good for Scotland.

Today, is a shining example of where I think we can achieve a virtuous circle of co-operation between government at Westminster and Holyrood and private investment to deliver an outcome which will help all parts of society in our country.

I will be addressing the annual general meeting of Social Enterprise Scotland.

It is something I am passionate about – a way where we all pull together for the common good.

Social enterprises are businesses which help local communities or good causes.

It is not a new concept. Scotland’s proud traditions of entrepreneurship and philanthropy – think Andrew Carnegie – have helped sow the seeds.

But what is new is the scale and breadth of what is now being done.

Social enterprises are worth more than £55bn-a-year to the economy.

They are things like the Factory Skatepark in Dundee, which helps young people with low self-esteem through extreme sports or volunteering projects.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking this is the kind of motherhood-and-apple-pie subject that politicians like talking about. It is far more than that.

Social enterprise is an area where government can – and will – make a real difference.

Last year, the Chancellor announced a tax break, the social investment tax relief, which could free up around £500 million of additional investment for projects which do more than simply turn a profit.

But for me, social enterprise is about working together. Both the UK and Scottish governments are committed to helping the sector grow .

Equally, private capital increasingly wants to do the right thing, but may need help and encouragement in deploying its assets to maximum effect. We can help with that too.

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that I believe in capitalism – but I also believe it must be capitalism with a purpose; a system which enhances all and diminishes none.

If you believe the myths, you may be shocked to hear me say there is such a thing as society – and in social enterprise, we see it at its best.

• Andrew Dunlop is parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Scotland Office

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