Duncan Thorp on the year ahead for social enterprises
2024 is set to be a year of both ongoing challenges and huge opportunities.
From the interconnected economic challenges, political debates and climate emergency, we already have the collective wisdom and solutions to do things differently.
On the domestic front we’re due to have a UK general election. This seems to point to a change in government and, regardless of our own positions, political change opens up new possibilities.
While UK politics has been strongly pulled towards economic conservatism, with old, mythical GDP and 'growth' at the centre of the debate, we still have the potential to call for the new government to go in a different policy direction.
We’re a member of the new Future Economy Alliance, that’s aiming to shift the economic debate towards a more realistic and progressive path.
With social investment and tax changes, corporate law reform, technology and AI, devolution of powers, public service reform and a just transition, there are many ways forward that can benefit both social enterprises and the people and communities we serve.
Closer to home in Scotland we have a wide variety of policy opportunities with the potential for radical economic change – if these can be realised at a local level with real-world implementation and can truly resonate with local people.
We’re continuing to consult on the latest and final practical action plan that’s part of Scotland’s 10 year Social Enterprise Strategy. This will bring the strategy to a close and we can then review what we’ve achieved, plan next steps and see what can be improved in future.
Development of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) has the potential to change our economy and allow more people to benefit from economic prosperity, particularly in the poorest parts of Scotland.
We’re a member of the NSET group that’s been reviewing how best to increase the number of social enterprises, cooperatives and employee-owned companies in Scotland.
This means changing policy interventions and practical business support to see what we can do better, while being mindful of the action plan process and other policy areas too.
Substantially growing these business models is the key tool we have to achieve real economic transformation.
Community Wealth Building (CWB) is the new, local and community-led approach to economic development in Scotland.
This practical roadmap, with a planned parliamentary bill, is a sustainable way to build a wellbeing economy that benefits both people and planet.
It’s this alternative approach that can build prosperity and begin to replace an economic system no longer fit for purpose.
Alongside other policy developments like the review of local democracy, land reform, community ownership and a circular economy, there are many ways in which we’ll be helping social enterprises to get their voices heard.
This means ensuring that all social enterprises have the knowledge, connections and tools to engage in policy, in ways that are both easy and accessible.
Simply changing laws and regulations won’t mean genuine economic change, unless these initiatives are actually led by the expertise of local social enterprises and other community organisations.
The cost of living, poverty, climate change and the mental health pandemic are all directly driven by the nature of our economy. This is an economic model of wealth inequality, unsustainable growth and wealth extraction from local communities.
We therefore need to get beyond just the positive rhetoric and the approach of tweaking policy around the edges. It’s essential that we get public policy right – and ensure that this translates into real-world social change in every local community.
The only test for policy is if the changes actually improve the lives of people and our natural environment.
We need to be laser focused on this priority, grasp the many opportunities and make the changes that the people of Scotland so urgently need in 2024.
We look forward to working in partnership with social enterprises and local and national government, as well as private sector allies, to make this happen.
Duncan Thorp is policy and public affairs manager at Social Enterprise Scotland.