In just the past couple of months four extremely important social enterprise-related reports have been published. Anyone wanting seriously up-to-date UK facts and figures for the social enterprise sector needs to have a look at least at the exec summaries of these reports. But there is a health warning: you are going to have a struggle to understand just what is being counted. The four reports are (click the graphics to go to each):
And finally — and the most familiar and in some respects most dependable for our purposes:
The BIS Small Business Survey 2012 informs the other three reports and all draw on its data.
To my mind, SEUK uses the BIS data in the most conservative (and dependable) way and estimates that there are 70,000 social enterprises in the UK (enterprises that self-defined themselves as a social enterprise and generate 26%+ of income from trading activities). These social enterprises contribute some £24bn to the national economy and employ about 1m people. This baseline is equal to (and draws on) the classification that is used in the Social Enterprise: Market Trends report of ‘very good fit’ social enterprises. (Have a look at p.4 of Market Trends and see if you can follow the distinction that is being made between ‘very good fit’ and ‘good fit’ social enterprises. I can’t.)
A baseline of 70,000 social enterprises, then, seems entirely plausible and is in line with SEUK’s own findings, both past and current, as well as BIS figures going back to the mid-2000s.
But the other figures in Social Enterprise: Market Trends are frankly bewildering — both in their size and in what is being counted. For instance, if sole traders and businesses with no employees are also included, the report explains, then the total number of ‘very good fit’ social enterprises is 283,500 and the number of ‘good fit’ social enterprises 688,200.
Now, I’m all for inclusivity, and I do acknowledge that the face of the sector is changing, but even so, there are huge problems with this approach. The difference between a baseline of 70,000 social enterprises and almost ten times that number suggests an interpretation of social enterprise so broad as to be almost meaningless. How can this help anyone understand what the sector actually looks like, or the types of businesses in it? We might just as well say “businesses — some of which have a bit of social purpose to them….”
Thanks to my old friend Chris Newis at CROWN — our phone discussion this morning prompted this post.