Analysis: From a Social Value Unit to 'entrepreneur L plates'

The Social Economy Alliance has published its manifesto for the 2015 general election. Andy Hillier reports

From the Social Economy Alliance manifesto
From the Social Economy Alliance manifesto

Given his trademark cigar and V for victory sign, the image is instantly recognisable as the former Tory Prime Minister and wartime leader Winston Churchill. But the distinctive forehead birthmark of the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is just as obvious.

The image is one of a series that merge leading figures from the left and right, created to make the point that good ideas come from the whole spectrum, and to promote the Social Economy Alliance's manifesto dor next year's general election. The alliance comprises more than 400 social enterprises, cooperatives, think tanks and charities. Its manifesto includes 25 measures it believes would encourage more socially responsible business.

The alliance says that the number of social enterprises continues to grow apace, and that almost half of registered charities now consider themselves to be social enterprises. But it also contends that further measures are needed to support them. It calls for the creation of a "pro-social economy", arguing that old methods of working and regulation often get in the way. This could be achieved partly by the government and other state-run agencies using their buying power to buy services from socially responsible organisations, it says.

The alliance argues that the government should develop a Social Value Unit in the Treasury that would have a mandate to measure and grow the social economy. And it says a French-style solidarity fund should be created that compels pension fund managers to offer savers the choice of at least one social investment fund.

The alliance says that further steps are required to strengthen the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which requires government and NHS commissioners to consider "economic, social and environmental wellbeing" when buying services from suppliers. This would include extending the requirement to the purchase of goods and works. Public bodies should also, it says, introduce requirements for contract bidders to be transparent about their tax arrangements and say whether they pay the living wage.

It also calls for public bodies to follow the lead of the Ministry of Justice by introducing a threshold that would prevent any single supplier from taking up more than 20 per cent of a crucial public body budget.

Communities should be given more rights to determine how land in their area is used and more opportunities to own a stake in, or even take over, crucial services such as utility companies, the alliance says. "Genuine community ownership can incentivise and encourage development, supporting its popularity in communities and enabling citizens to participate and engage in the development of local assets and infrastructure," its manifesto says.

The alliance says the next government should open up the welfare-to-work market by allowing jobseekers to have personal budgets with which they could select the right support. It says the UK should learn from models of working with unemployed people in France, Belgium and Quebec. "These act as a launch-pad for people on benefits who are budding entrepreneurs to make the transition from benefits to self-employment, with the support of peers who pool skills," the manifesto says.

Other proposed measures include "entrepreneur L plates", which provide a number of reliefs for new entrepreneurs for at least one year, and encouraging more young people to become social entrepreneurs through the creation of enterprise apprenticeships.

Cliff Prior, chief executive of UnLtd, a social enterprise that supports social entrepreneurs, and a member of the alliance, says: "The UK already has a fantastic number of people starting up as social entrepreneurs. But far too many get no support in the early stages and fail to achieve their potential."

He says social entrepreneurs need more access to high-risk finance and better early support. "All the evidence suggests that the earlier you start, the better," he adds.

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