Labour Thinks Social Enterprises Have a Better Chance of Changing the World

Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced that social enterprises will be “at the heart” of Labour’s economic policy, and a Labour government would look at legislative and financial opportunities to support them because the current structure of the economy is failing people and that market forces are not providing services that people need because the main focus is to make short term profit.

She argues that a shift towards social enterprises could create more diversity in the economy, make a more productive economy and reverse the decline of the high street. Long Bailey said: “We need to have more diversity in our economy. That’s why we place the role social enterprises right at the heart of Labour’s economic policy.”

This is great, but we have been here before with both Governments. Remember David Cameron, architect and absconder of Brexit? He was very keen on the Big Society and the role of social enterprise, Ed Miliband was the Minister for Social Enterprise and the Liberal Democrats also expressed some interest when Vince Cable was in Biz.

Government support will be helpful if it leads from the front, telling the public why they back social businesses, smoothing the bumpy ride for social enterprises to operate within the commissioning and procurement pathways including easing Union anxieties and ensuring we are also no longer left on the hippy fringes of economic and business policy. Our current position in the Government Cabinet is not in Business but in the portfolio of sports, loneliness and charities.  This is simply mad and maddening. How can Ministers with such a wide brief focus well on each of these equally important areas.  They can’t. It was obvious to the sector that Tracey Crouch, our previous Minister who resigned on a laudable issue of gambling machines was really focusing on sport. No criticism of the minster just the illogicality of the brief.

 I have yet to meet the new Minister Mims Davies, but clearly, she is so busy we do not even get a reply to a welcome note.

Social Enterprise UK Report in 2018 the Hidden Revolution gives the business facts about social business. The big news is that the sector makes a £60 billion contribution to UK GDP.

This is not small bucks and we should surely be a key part of any economic structure. All businesses make a contribution to society by providing employment, but social enterprises have that extra magic which is the active incorporation of social capital into their business model. Our way of doing business is not based on squeezing every last penny out for shareholder dividends but to balance fair pay with a fair outcome. According to Mohammed Yunus in one of my favourite books:


“social business has a better chance of changing the world than past ideas because the concept is so powerful yet so flexible and accommodating rather than threatening the structure of business, it proposes a way to revitalize it.” Page 29

So well done Labour for proposing to back social enterprises, but let’s unpack what you mean by legislative and financial opportunities.  As John Bird  would say we don’t need a hand out, we need to be on a level playing field with other businesses, part of the grown up economic conversation and a central element of the Business Department. Promise that as the first step, and the rest will start to fall in line.