Further to this post, the launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s new strategy outlining its commitment to doubling the size of the social economy sector in the West Midlands was excellent.
It was held on Thursday 9th January at the beautiful Moseley Community Hub at the old School of Art and was attended by well over a hundred guests.
The WMCA’s new commitment to the social economy grew out of a year’s work by a specially convened sector-led task force, brought together at the Mayor’s invitation. Its task was to work out how best WMCA could add value, scale and impact to the work already happening in the West Midlands to support and grow the social economy.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, spoke passionately about his commitment to social enterprise. “My years leading John Lewis,” he explained, “showed me that linking business outcomes with social outcomes delivers huge benefits.”
He went on: “We could have held this launch in a number of city centres, but that would have been too easy. I felt there was a far more powerful symbolism in holding it here in Moseley where even as we speak a new cluster of social enterprises is developing, centred on the lovely old Victorian buildings that have been given a new lease of life and new social purpose.”
The old Moseley School of Art has been reborn as a thriving community hub and shared workspace, and just across the road are the historic Moseley Road Baths which great local determination and dedication have brought back to life (covered here and here on this blog).
The social economy currently contributes around £3.5bn a year to West Midlands GDP and the Mayor believes this can be doubled to £7bn by 2029. He outlined the six “simple and practical” ways that the task force recommended the WMCA should pursue this aim. These are:
(1) Boost the collective identity of social enterprise by strengthening and growing its platforms.
(2) Develop a collaborative ten-year business case for social enterprise business support.
(3) Use the efforts of the WMCA Data & Analytics department to develop and disseminate a consistent approach for data collection on social enterprise.
(4) Use the WMCA’s convening role to encourage all regional public sector bodies and publicly-funded projects to spend at least 5% of their commissioning and procurement budgets with social enterprises.
(5) Work with partners to lead a campaign to encourage closer links between social enterprises and the wider private sector.
(6) Work with social finance and investment partners to assess gaps, barriers and improvements that could could boost the impact of social investment, as well as increasing demand.
As well as calling on local authorities in the region to ensure that at least 5% of their commissioning and procurement budgets are spent within the social economy, the Mayor is also calling on local businesses to consider using social enterprises when buying goods or services.
The Mayor ended his remarks by saying that we will see progress on this very quickly, with work to help develop a detailed business plan being put out to public tender very soon.
Many of those I spoke to feel that the WMCA’s bold commitment to growing the social economy marks a new period of opportunity for social enterprise in the West Midlands. Certainly, having an overarching framework for social economy growth in the West Midlands offers yet another dimension to Birmingham Social Enterprise City and we wholeheartedly welcome this development.