Editorial: A vision finally becomes reality

It's been a hard road, but Big Society Capital is here at last, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

It's been a long and winding road that's taken several years to negotiate under two administrations, but last week the notional institution formerly known as the Big Society Bank (among other things) finally began to acquire a local habitation and a name.

Big Society Capital is coming into being with £200m of investment from the high-street banks and the prospect of several hundred million more from dormant bank accounts once various regulations have been satisfied and permissions obtained.

Much of the credit for bringing BSC into being goes to the persistent Sir Ronald Cohen, who saw the need for charities and the non-profit sector to gain access to more private capital if they were to realise more socially beneficial projects. As founder of the private equity firm Apax and a red-blooded capitalist, Sir Ronald is not the kind of person everyone in the sector will want to clasp to their bosom, but if BSC really takes off they might have reason to shake him by the hand. He accepts that, if it is to flourish, it will need 10 years or more.

It's instructive that the first investment by the new institution will be £1m in the Private Equity Foundation, which has a business methodology well described by its chief executive Shaks Ghosh in an interview with Third Sector two weeks ago. Half of the investment will go into a payment-by-results scheme run by charities that help young people, and half into attracting more investment into that scheme. It's a money-begets-money approach, derived from the City, and the sector in general will need time to get used to this as a general rule.

Big Society Capital is the last main building block in the coalition government's redesigned and reduced edifice of support for the sector, and the charities minister Nick Hurd and his boss Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will no doubt be packing their buckets and spades with a sense of relief, and even of satisfaction. What they've done isn't universally welcome, and some of it looks like change for change's sake, but the sector's task now is to get on and make the best of the situation.

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