The year in social enterprise: 2011

Staff reporter David Ainsworth looks back at a big year for social enterprise, including the launch of Big Society Capital, under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Cohen

Sir Ronald Cohen
Sir Ronald Cohen

It was a big year for the Big Society Bank, which changed its name to Big Society Capital, appointed its first chair and chief executive and made its first investment with money from dormant bank accounts.

Venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen agreed to take on the chairman's role and Nick O'Donohoe, the former head of global research at JP Morgan, was appointed chief executive.

The wholesale lender, which will capitalise organisations that invest in social enterprise, still needs permission from the European Commission and the Financial Services Authority before it can formally open for business. An interim arrangement with the Big Lottery Fund enabled the first investment to be made.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said he was confident the lender will be open for business early next year.

Several pieces of research revealed concerns about the levels of social investment and the preparedness of voluntary organisations. One report said only a handful of organisations were ready to take on investments from Big Society Capital and that the entire social investment sector was worth less than £200m last year.

But 2011 did see the announcement of several new trials of social impact bonds.

It was a year of change among umbrella bodies, with the Social Enterprise Coalition renamed Social Enterprise UK. Social Economy Network, the main social enterprise body in Northern Ireland, closed, as did Rise, the umbrella body for the south west, which transferred its assets to the Social Enterprise Mark Company. The mark has now been awarded to several hundred businesses.

The year also saw the government’s aspiration for a million public sector workers set up their own mutuals by 2015 gather pace.

A mutuals taskforce was set up in February to support the creation of mutuals. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, announced details of a £10m programme to facilitate the process.

The government continued to support the idea of social enterprises providing more services. However, Labour peer Baroness Jay of Paddington told the House of Lords in October that the decision not to award an NHS contract to Central Surrey Health, a mutual owned by former NHS workers, confirmed herf fears that social enterprises were being overlooked in favour of big businesses.

There were hopes that the Public Services (Social Value) Bill, which will force commissioners to consider social benefit when procuring services, would redress the balance. The private member's bill, sponsored by Conservative MP Chris White, has cross-party support.

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