Social enterprises are changing our society

WE are on a journey to a new Scotland and a culture which provides for people and solves issues, says Duncan Thorp.

WE are on a journey to a new Scotland and a culture which provides for people and solves issues, says Duncan Thorp.

As we seek new devolved powers for Scotland, we need to make sure that the process doesn’t stop at the doors of the Scottish Parliament. In addition to the proposed transfer of powers via the UK Smith Commission we must also empower community groups, local authorities and social enterprises.

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Regardless of our views on the outcome, there are certainly many opportunities for Scotland and for social enterprises after the referendum. Social enterprise is one such area where there is cross-party and much cross-sector support. We generally agree that social enterprises are a good thing and we need more of them delivering goods and services to benefit people.

Social enterprise is often about charities becoming more enterprising and therefore more sustainable but it is also about business start-ups choosing the social enterprise route. It is about public sector reform and opening up procurement and public-social partnerships too. Increasingly it’s about giving private sector SMEs the opportunity to explore social enterprise models and to partner with or possibly become a social enterprise themselves.

Reserved Westminster powers are wide and include welfare and pensions, finance and the economy, company law, taxation, employment and the Work Programme, equal opportunities, immigration, some powers over transport, energy, gambling and many other areas.

We are engaging with social enterprises on the best way forward. We are thinking about exactly what powers within these broad areas should be devolved and why they would benefit social enterprises. For example, if most taxation should be devolved, exactly which taxes and why? When it comes to further devolved powers to benefit social enterprises and the people they serve, it is fair to say that welfare, employment and taxation are the areas that are most often mentioned.

We have been asking members and other social enterprises to fill in a survey. As well as feeding into the UK Smith Commission it will be part of our first steps towards a potential national social enterprise strategy for Scotland. This is all in the context of other work taking place to develop social enterprise, whether it is practical business support, communications and profile raising, our national policy forum meetings, the recent Scottish Parliament evidence session on social enterprise and out recent annual policy-related survey.

Our aim is to see Scotland going forward as a social enterprise nation and to use any newly-devolved powers to achieve this aim. We need a mix of initiatives and mechanisms. Social investment is already happening. We need to build on and review where the social investment market is going and what we might do better.

In terms of the next steps there is an equally crucial role to play for initiatives like the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill. This includes new powers for community groups and social enterprises to take on public sector assets, as well as a range of other reforms, including allotments, common good land reform and an urban right to buy land.

It’s really about local leadership, communities having the power to make their own decisions and supporting their capacity to implement them. It is about strong, independent and resilient communities and local, people-led regeneration. The role of community anchor organisations like housing associations, food and energy co-operatives, community land groups, development trusts and other social enterprises is at the heart of the process and the key to success.

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While we seek to influence the UK Smith Commission, the Community Empowerment Bill and other initiatives, social enterprises are already changing society, in Scotland and beyond. From community-owned co-operatives, to social firms employing those with disabilities, social housing, credit unions, community interest companies (CICs) and all other businesses that exist specifically for a social purpose.

These innovative businesses are taking forward a radical programme of social and environmental change, led by the values of enterprise, equality, inclusiveness and putting people and planet first. These businesses are going beyond traditional models of delivery and creating a more sustainable Scotland for the long-term. Our Scottish Parliament reception and annual Social Enterprise Awards Scotland on 4 November will celebrate their achievements.

There are many different views on devolution, unionism or independence within social enterprise, but the key now is to get beyond that debate and into the wider question of what type of society Scotland should be – and how we use social enterprise to get there.

This is where we’re united.We want this journey to a new Scotland to include social enterprises of all types and sizes and in every sector and community in Scotland. By developing these models we are creating a new, urgently-needed economic culture that actually provides things for people – and at the same time solves entrenched social issues.

• Duncan Thorp is Policy and Communications Officer at Social Enterprise Scotland