Co-operators, community workers and social entrepreneurs took to the mic in Manchester for the launch of a new national campaign, Vote for a Social Economy.
The Social Economy Alliance is asking interested parties including co-ops to feed into its manifesto, which will be used in the run up to May’s local elections and the 2015 General Election to lobby all political parties. The aim is to secure policies that serve people and communities, foster bottom-up economic growth and support social enterprises and co-ops.
On 25 March the alliance, which comprises over 100 social enterprises, co-ops, universities, housing associations, crowd-funders, social investors, think tanks and charities, hosted an open mic event to kick off the debate. When asked how the next government could support the sector, suggestions from delegates ranged from “put the social economy on the national curriculum” to “refuse business rate relief for empty buildings until they are offered for free to social enterprises and co-ops”.
Social enterprise trainer Amna Abdullatif of InspirEngage International called for support for women, people over the age of 24 and those dealing with difficult life experiences. “There has to be something to deal with their problems before you can push them,” she said.
Liz Allen of the Connectives asked how commissioners across the public sector could develop polled budgets and joint commissioning. While compliance was crucial, it may be a perceived barrier rather than a real one, she said.
Business editor of the Metro newspaper Jayne Atherton said her readers were furious about the inequality and injustice they saw all around them. “What direction do we really want the economy to take in the 21st century?” she asked. “Is it dog-eat-dog capitalism or something different?”
And Paul Monaghan, former head of social goals at the Co-operative Group, now director at Up the Ethics, offered advice on how to engage with local politicians and the media. “Be positive,” he said. “No one wants to be lobbied by a miserable person.”
The Social Economy Alliance’s early day motion, which calls on the government to ensure greater alignment between social and economic policy-making, offered co-ops, social enterprises and community groups a chance to gain profile locally, he added. “Check whether your MP has signed it – and if they haven’t, ask them why they haven’t,” he said. “There may be a photo opportunity or a mention in Parliament in it for you.”
Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), said the campaign was kicking off in the North West because the social enterprise and co-operative movement had started in Rochdale. According to SEUK, there are now over 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, including 6,000 co-ops.
“Power is concentrated in too few hands in Britain,” Mr Holbrook said. “Our local and national political leaders must take a closer look at what’s happening at the grass roots if they’re to understand the way the economy is developing and can, in future, benefit the 99%. We must ensure that the next year’s general election delivers a government that supports the growth of the social enterprise and co-operative movement.”