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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

A new start, a better economy and tackling child poverty  


Duncan Thorp on Scotland's new first minister

Sometimes things move very fast and unexpectedly in the world of politics. The past few weeks in Scotland has been the perfect example.  

John Swinney MSP is our new first minister. While we’re certainly pleased for him personally, Social Enterprise Scotland will be sad to see him go as Convener of the Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Social Enterprise, our Parliament policy forum.  

While many MSPs, from all parties, are strong supporters of our social enterprise community, something we’re very grateful for, John has been a particularly passionate and vocal supporter of our innovative businesses for years.   

He’s spoken directly to many social entrepreneurs and has a keen understanding of the powerful economic contribution of our sector, as well as the future potential of social enterprise.  

This economic contribution of social enterprise is a valuable and increasingly important asset to Scotland’s economy.   

The contribution, known as Gross Value Added (GVA), was £2.63 billion in 2021 (new stats out this year). That’s up from £2.4bn in 2017. There were almost 90,000 full time equivalent jobs provided by social enterprises in 2021, up from just over 81,000 in 2017.   

It’s these types of figures that really bring home the economic value. 

Other strong financial indicators include the total net worth of social enterprises at £7bn as of 2021, up from £3.9bn in 2015, while income from trading was at £3.3bn, up from £2.3bn in 2015, with a generated collective surplus of £524 million, up from £300m in 2015.     

The new first minister has stated that one of his top priorities is eliminating child poverty. This is certainly a central aim on the journey towards a practical, real-world, wellbeing economy that impacts our daily lives.  

Social enterprises, in all their myriad forms, are a key driver in tackling poverty in every part of Scotland, building resilient local economies, driving regeneration and supporting the most excluded.  

Economic exclusion, inequality and poverty are direct causes of our mental health pandemic and they’re an obvious, well-documented cause of crime and other toxic social issues.  

That short, frequently used quote from Mahatma Gandhi is more relevant than ever, that “Poverty is the worst form of violence”.   

Sophy Green, from social enterprise Instant Neighbour in Aberdeen, said: “We welcome the first minister’s pledge to prioritise eradicating child poverty.   

“To achieve this, he must ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living, providing security and stability for families. This means a secure home, affordable wrap around childcare, flexible jobs, reliable incomes by getting rid of zero-hour contracts and access to quality, affordable and healthy food from locally based suppliers.   

“If he achieves all this, we will see childhood poverty begin to reduce.”  

Anisha Yaseen, of social enterprise Thrive East Lothian CIC, adds: “As an organisation providing inclusive, flexible and affordable childcare and holistic support to vulnerable families, we recognise the critical importance of addressing systemic barriers to poverty.    

“We commend John Swinney’s commitment to ending child poverty and highlighting the urgent need for policy changes, such as, crucially, urging the UK Government to address the two child-benefit cap.  

“Advocating for those impacted by socio-economic disadvantage is central to our mission. We’re enthusiastic to work with the new first minister, drawing on our experience and expertise to bring about positive, lasting change.”  

We need to understand that the nature of our economy is the route cause and the solution to building better lives and wealth for all of us.  

A wellbeing economy and community wealth building are not vague academic ideas. This is about practical, real-world economic policies that directly benefit ordinary people and our natural environment.  

It’s about everyone getting paid at least the Real Living Wage, secure and purposeful work, ambitious land reform, a Minimum Income Guarantee and community owned land and buildings as the norm in every urban and rural area.  

It’s also about every business in Scotland measuring and improving their social and environmental impact, more housing co-operatives, procurement opportunities for social enterprises, democratising public services like ScotRail and Scottish Water and of course building a just transition to net zero.   

This must all be underpinned by measuring economic success based on human needs, not just GDP, using the National Performance Framework and other tools.  

We look forward to a renewed commitment to social enterprise development and the new, national Social Enterprise Action Plan, as well as improved support for co-operatives, employee ownership and other impactful business models.  

In particular we need to see significant growth in these business models over the next 10 years, in order to achieve the thriving, prosperous economy that we all want and need.  

It’s fair to say that many civil society organisations are increasingly frustrated at policy rhetoric not being matched by practical implementation at a local community level.  

There’s a lack of fresh thinking, new ideas and policy innovation, despite the many practical ideas from forward looking think tanks, universities and organisations like Social Enterprise Scotland and Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland.    

As we’ve heard from the new FM and other politicians, we all need to work together to prioritise the real needs of the people of Scotland.   

This is about changing rhetoric and behaviours, particularly in how we treat others who disagree with us. It’s really about raising our consciousness.  

Social enterprise is a unifying, cross-party movement of local, innovative businesses, that put people and planet first.   

In a diverse, minority parliament perhaps this is one of the places where politicians could really start working together for the common good?  

Duncan Thorp is policy and public affairs manager for Social Enterprise Scotland.  



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