SUPPORT networks for social enterprises are neglecting the needs of organisations operating in competitive markets, a leading charity executive has claimed.
Stuart Callison, the head of St Andrew’s First Aid, said his volunteer group has struggled to finance expansion plans to bolster its charitable education work. Speaking ahead of this year’s fourth annual Scottish First Aid Week, he noted that the group’s training and supplies subsidiary ranks in the top 2 per cent of all Scottish social enterprises by income.
“We operate at a slightly different scale, which creates its own challenges because the nature of the support which is out there leaves quite a lot in limbo,” Callison said.
Because the proceeds from St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies go back into the main charity, the balance sheet “doesn’t look very appealing” to banks. This is despite margins of more than 15 per cent on turnover of nearly £2 million in a competitive market.
At the same time, soft loan funding is geared towards organisations that fill unmet needs, or those seeking to employ disadvantaged groups. These make up the majority of social enterprises, with less than a fifth competing against the private sector and nearly half reporting they have no competition at all.
Callison said these business models are “entirely valid”, but it also means short-term capital for social enterprises is correspondingly expensive. With rivals offering keenly-priced alternatives, this is a cost that the training and supplies subsidiary would struggle to bear.
“It has been hard to find appropriate business support, which is frustrating,” Callison said. “At the moment we are finding it difficult to navigate our way around the enterprise agency map.”
Building on the launch of its training and supplies subsidiary three years ago, St Andrew’s is now looking at other ways to augment its annual budget of £3m. The group is discussing the possibility of a partnership to provide first aid training via e-learning, and would like to launch products in areas such as paediatric first aid.