I was recently invited to speak to Ministers at Westminster in London about Fordhall’s successful community ownership scheme. It was a scary but exhilarating day and great to see Fordhall having such a prominent platform.
The All Parliamentary Group for Social Enterprise hosts an annual programme of events in Parliament to highlight sector trends and debate emerging issues and opportunities. With just over a year to go until the next General Election, the group convened a hearing on the social economy designed to examine policy recommendations for the next Government.
A cross-party Parliamentary panel heard evidence from experts across the sector, who highlighted the current operating environment for the sector and share their recommendations for both tackling existing barriers and maximising opportunities for social enterprises to meet the social and economic challenges facing the UK.
Over 70 people attended the session including Parliamentarians, social enterprise leaders and networks, and policy makers, including representatives from our local community farm.
I was extremely honoured to be asked to present evidence to the panel last week. It was quite daunting walking into Westminster and my five minute presentation seemed to fly by. I was keen to showcase the benefits of social enterprise into what otherwise can be struggling yet vital industries, such as food and farming. Fordhall Farm was on its knee’s in 2004 and because the community – you – supported it, we now employ over 30 people in the summer months, something that cannot be said for many other 140acre livestock farms in the country.
Social Enterprise has not only allowed this longstanding farm to survive and to allow it to be an educational resource used by schools and families alike, but it also contributes to the local economy, by creating jobs, offering experience for the unemployed, and attracting tourism and investment to the area.
It was extremely interesting to hear the other speakers at Westminster too. The clear message of the day was that government hashelped the sector over the last few years, but much more needs to be done to encourage the enterprise movement across the country in the future.
A social enterprise can be defined as a business or organisation that reinvests their profits for social or environmental benefit, they do not have to be a charity, but they do have to have social or environmental return as part of their general practice. It is about more that purely profit.
It was clear that Ministers from all the main parties could see the value in social enterprise for local communities. There seemed to be a desire to encourage conventional businesses to act more responsibly and possibly even to enforce some kind of social/environmental reinvestment into future tax or business policy, which can only be good for everyone. We wait to see what the next manifesto’s say!