Big Society idea misses big picture

A report published by the Social Enterprise Coalition says the country has lost sight of the need for economic reform in the current Big Society debate about public...

The Conservative Party’s 2010 manifesto outlined the need for broader economic reform in addition to a change to civil society and the new Time for Social Enterprise report says Government needs to bring the two together and clarify the role business will play in the Big Society, which has so far been missing.

The report says the system in which philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and government grants fund the work of charities is a one-dimensional way of tackling the country’s social and environmental problems. 

It claims social enterprises provide a better alternative because they contribute to GDP while simultaneously tackling social and environmental problems. Time for Social Enterprise is based on a policy review, interviews with leading people in business and finance who are supporting social enterprise, as well as social entrepreneurs.

Around 62,000 social enterprises in the UK contribute over £20 billion to the economy and employ nearly a million people, but according to the report, people who work for businesses that create environmental or social problems and then make donations to charity represent an ‘inefficient way of earning and giving’. 

It says the current system in which private sector businesses and charities have for years pursued drastically different goals has led to this pattern of how money moves through the economy. 

The report says that if more people were to work in social enterprises, they would automatically make a positive difference to society through their jobs. It also suggests that, through purchasing of goods and services provided by social enterprises, consumers have the power to make a positive difference.

To help realise the growth of social enterprise, the report calls for:

• The setting up of a national social enterprise task force to integrate social and economic policy to ensure greatest value is secured from all public spending

• A standardisation of how social value is measured and with guidance of how businesses are to report it

• Education strategies to ensure that the UK workforce and consumers can choose social value when they spend, save, earn and give.

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of the Social Enterprise Coalition, commented: “Social enterprise is catching on around the globe, but it needs to be better understood and better used in the UK. 

“It can help take the strain off our charitable sector and help our economy recover sustainably, rather than replacing like with like. Social enterprise makes a great deal of common sense, but to reach its potential it will require much broader awareness and understanding.”

• To view the full report, go to

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