Duncan Thorp: Society set to profit from the enterprising entrepreneurs

A Generic photo of a busy, noisy office. See PA Feature TOPICAL Noise. PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TOPICAL Noise.
A Generic photo of a busy, noisy office. See PA Feature TOPICAL Noise. PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TOPICAL Noise.
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Social Enterprise Census 2019 is the third research project to map the size, character and support needs of social enterprises in Scotland. Since 2015 it’s fair to say that we’ve recorded some impressive growth and development.

Social enterprises make up an increasing proportion of Scotland’s economic figures. However, it’s not just about economic impact but also the powerful and often hidden social impacts they provide. Building a new well-being, circular and inclusive economy is what social enterprise is all about.

Social enterprises are independent businesses that have a very specific social or environmental mission. They generate income by trading and invest their profits in their purpose. From ethical gifts to social housing, inclusive sports centres, childcare, community transport and more.

According to Census 2019 there are now 6,025 social enterprises in Scotland, up from 5,600 in 2017 and well up on the 5,199 recorded in 2015. In just 4 years the numbers have increased by nearly 16%. This is testament to the hard work of social entrepreneurs and the funding, policy and business support provided by a variety of agencies.

Social enterprises employed 81,357 full time equivalent workers in 2017, this has now risen to 88,318, a 9% increase in job opportunities. Housing in social enterprise provides most jobs, followed by health and social care and education, training and employment.

This represents not just more jobs but is often targeting those furthest from the job market. It also opens door for young people - who are looking for something more fulfilling than a standard corporate job.

The new Census states that the economic contribution (GVA) of Scotland’s social enterprises is £2.30bn. This is up from £2.04bn in the last study and up from £1.68bn in 2015, a 37% increase in just 4 years.

Some of these big leaps are due to improved publicly available financial data plus improvements in methodology. However, these are strong figures and show the genuine benefit of the social enterprise way of doing business.

When it comes to ethical business practices, such as those in the Scottish Business Pledge, we’re doing well too. 81% formally support employee involvement in decision-making. The average gap between lowest and highest paid in a social enterprise is just 1 to 2.5. More social enterprises are paying the real Living Wage (Living Wage Foundation). 75% now pay it, an increase from 68% in 2015.

Statistics don’t reveal everything about social enterprise and it’s difficult to measure their collective social impact.

To truly understand social enterprise you need to look at what they’re doing in your local community.

To take social enterprise forward consumers need to question how our economy works - and switch their shopping choices to make a real, lasting difference. We need more local authorities and public bodies to work with social enterprises. We should encourage entrepreneurs to consider a social enterprise option. There’s also huge potential in private sector supply chains.

By continuing to improve business support and public awareness we can ensure that Census 2021 produces the best results ever.

The headline and full results of all the Census studies are at socialenterprisecensus.org.uk

Duncan Thorp, policy and communications manager, Social Enterprise Scotland.