The latest count of social enterprises in the UK taken in 2009 by research consultants Delta Economics has just been published under the giveaway title ‘Hidden Social Enterprises – Why we need to look again at the numbers’ (PDF Dowload 791Kb). From the baseline of the government’s own 2007 research that estimates there are 61,800 social enterprises in the UK. Delta now claims to have discovered another 170,200 bringing the total figure to 232,000 and, according to it’s calculations, social enterpries contribute a unbelievably massive £97bn to GDP! There’s clearly problems with this, though I leave the questionable economics for another day. But I do take issue over the attempt by the authors to blur the definition of what really counts as a social enterprise .
Delta’s research is based on a survey of 2121 ‘growth-oriented entrepreneurs’ with turnover in excess of £200k for more than two years. The target group, taken from Dun and Bradstreet data and questioned in the annual survey ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Growth and Sustainablity’ (COGS), set up their for-profit businesses to ‘Make a Difference’ or as ‘Value Driven’ enterprises. Only 3.6% (76) of businesses surveyed were in fact not-for-profit companies including 20 Community Interest Companies.
Socially responsible business, when the triple bottom line is measured and reported, is laudable but this is not social enterprise as most of us know. It’s such a temptation for academics to jump on the band wagon and attempt to align new markets to the social enterprise movement by dressing up others in the garb of ‘good business’. Fortunately the social enterprise sector will readily recognise attempts by pundits to masquerade private sector business as social enterprise and readily rebut the suggestion made in the report that all ‘value-driven’ business people are actually all social entrepreneurs.
If anything the report illustrates the need to maintain a robust counting methodology to preserve the integrity of the sector as we seek to shape future policy and financial resources for social enterprises throughout the UK regions.