WMCA unveils plans to grow the region’s social economy sector

L to R: Social Economy Task Force chairs, Carole Donnelly and Gill Morbey, with Mayor Andy Street. Pictured at Moseley Road Baths, a social enterprise managed by local people (photo: WMCA)

West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) today made major announcements regarding plans to help the region’s social economy sector grow and thrive.
At an online roundtable event today, the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and a wide range of public sector and social economy partners, welcomed plans to invest in the region’s social economy. The social economy sector, which includes social businesses, charities, voluntary organisations and community groups, operates for social purpose and community benefit rather than personal profit. These plans are being developed in response to recommendations made by the Combined Authority’s independent Social Economy Taskforce which asked WMCA to develop a plan for doubling the size of this sector over the next decade. 
The West Midlands has been hit hard by the Covid pandemic, and many of its community-focused organisations and social businesses have been similarly affected, facing lower turnover and a furloughed workforce while also seeing rising demand for many of the services they provide. 
Recognising that these social economy organisations offer some of the best routes to inclusive growth and fair and equitable Covid recovery, WMCA has been working with the sector to develop a four-point plan to help build the social economy back stronger than before. This will ensure that the pledge WMCA made to the Social Economy Taskforce regarding sector growth is delivered in a way that responds to current challenges. The strategy published today, Growing the Social Economy in the WMCA area, sets out four key areas for action:
» Working with new and existing funders to improve uptake of investment to support growth of social enterprises and community businesses.
» Business support and advice through an accelerator programme to encourage rapid growth of social enterprises, from start-up companies through to more established organisations.
» Establishing social economy clusters across the region – clustering of sector-specific businesses has been proven to help build economic growth and resilience.
» Directing WMCA investment plans towards supporting schemes that can help increase growth among social economy businesses.
WMCA used today’s roundtable to test these aims with local partners and begin the process of turning them into a plan for delivery. Partners hope that this new, region-wide collaborative approach to social economy growth will result in additional external funding and goodwill support that will help achieve the key aims of the strategy. Speaking at the event, Mayor Andy Street said: 
“The social economy may not be one that many people are familiar with, but it is a vital part of our region’s overall economic success. These are businesses and organisations that apply all the expertise and skills that one might expect from traditional commercial companies, but in a way that prioritises social impact.
“The Covid pandemic has tested us all, and this sector is no exception. Yet we know these companies and organisations are part of our recovery, and work closely with our communities. Which is why I’m so pleased with all the hard work and goodwill that has been put into preparing this strategy, and that the roundtable today has illustrated the breadth of the buy-in that we have to turn these growth plans into reality.”
The team that developed the strategy — Meena Bharadwa (Locality), Carole Donnelly (CJD Consultancy), Charles Rapson (School for Social Entrepreneurs) and Alun Severn (BSSEC) — was led by Sarah Crawley in the months leading up to her retirement from iSE, the specialist social enterprise development organisation she founded and led. Speaking at the event, Sarah said:
“This strategy is unique in that it has been written by a consortium drawn from the social economy sector in the West Midlands. Its aim is to stimulate social economy growth, bring together best practice and learning, and create a framework for action. Following the roundtable today we are delighted that the Mayor and WMCA are supporting this work which will enable social businesses to increase their economic, social and environmental impact and contribute to the region’s recovery from COVID through inclusive growth.”
 View/download Growing the Social Economy in the WMCA area: A Framework for Action
At the same time as the WMCA Board approved Growing the Social Economy in the WMCA Area: A Framework for Action, it also approved four more  detailed business cases proposing specific actions. These four business cases cover the following:
→ WMCA Business Case: Developing Social Economy Clusters — download/view
→ WMCA Business Case: Social Enterprise Support & Accelerator Programme — download/view
→ WMCA Business Case: Using WMCA Regional Investment Programmes to enable growth — download/view
→ WMCA Business Case: A West Midlands Social Economy Development Fund-Discussion — download/view
While it will not be possible to enact all of these business cases in their entirety with immediate effect, they are important in establishing the ambitions for social economy growth that are shared by both the WMCA and the wider sector. Virtual teams have been established by WMCA to work collaboratively to take these forward. On the last of these, the case for a new WM Social Economy Development Fund, WMCA is commissioning an options appraisal by finance experts to determine whether and in what form the ambitions set out in the business case can best be realised.
If you would like to be added to a new BSSEC mailing list specifically to receive news of progress in the WMCA social economy growth plans please send mail to Sallie Ryan.
→ For more information about how to get involved please send mail to Claire Spencer at WMCA
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