Social enterprises have a “huge opportunity” to deliver public services as the country recovers from the pandemic, according to civil society minister Baroness Barran.
Speaking to the Social Investment Commission this morning, Barran said that mid-sized social enterprises could help deliver work in areas like healthcare and job training, where the government planned to spend “a great deal of money” in the years ahead.
The minister also cautioned social investment leaders against against over-estimating the amount of money available from dormant asset funds.
The Commission was established by Lord Victor Adebowale, the chair of Social Enterprise UK, and plans to report on its findings in April or May this year.
Answering a question about the future relationship between government and social enterprise, Barran said: “I think the government does understand that there is something special that social enterprises and social investment offers in how services are delivered and the outcomes they achieve.”
Citing research into social entrepreneurs’ focus on “retraining, reskilling, education [and] health, whether it be physical health or mental health”, she added: “Those are all areas which the government is going to be spending a great deal of money on in the coming years, for very obvious reasons.
“I think we need to work together to work out how we can make sure that the unique contribution of social enterprise and social investment deliver the impact we all want to see.”
Barran added: “I think there is a huge opportunity, particularly in some of the middle-sized operations who have potentially the ability to scale.”
Middle-sized social enterprises are generally defined as organisations turning over more than £100,000.
The minister told the commissioners that the pandemic could represent a “tipping point” for the social enterprise market.
She said that Covid-19 “has highlighted and exacerbated the inequalities that we see in society. Across government we are aware of that. Boardrooms large and small are aware of that.
“But I also think people sitting around their kitchen table, the general public, are extremely aware of that”.
As a result, the “offer” of social enterprises to work locally and ethically “is extremely well timed”, she said.
“There have been other tipping points in all of this, but I hope this is the next tipping point of taking the whole sector to another level, albeit none of us would have wished the pandemic on anyone.”
Caution over dormant assets
Barran also said that she was hopeful about the potential of the dormant assets scheme, although she warned the Commissioners not to expect it to produce as much money as some had estimated.
She said: “You know that we recently published our response to the dormant assets consultation, and we want to see quite a significant expansion of the scheme.
“Although that is not a quick win, and our sums don’t suggest it is quite the scale of sums that some commentators have suggested, that is a really important area. It is really critical we use that to best effect.”
Nearly 400 organisations have signed a letter lobbying the chancellor to use dormant asset funds to create a Community Wealth Fund, which would be directly accessible to local groups in the most deprived parts of the country.