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The Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, Minister for Digital Britain, also Financial Secretary to the Treasury
LSO St Luke’s, Old Street, London, 30 October 2007
I am delighted to be here to welcome warmly on behalf of the Government the launch of the new Breakthrough Fund. And I’m grateful to Adele and Damon for the opportunity to join you and to underline my support for the aims and objectives of this new fund.
Social enterprise is making a very important contribution in Britain today – contributing powerfully to a strong society and a strong economy. Social enterprises are successfully combining the creative genius of entrepreneurship with passionate commitment to overcoming injustice or social exclusion. In a previous Ministerial role some years ago I had the privilege of spending a week travelling round the country visiting social enterprises, and I was very impressed with what I saw.
One of the best known examples I visited was the Eden Project in Cornwall, where Tim Smit’s vision and determination had produced by the time I visited 1,700 jobs in the South West and given Cornwall one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions. It has transformed the economy of rural Cornwall, a part of the country that has been among the most hard-pressed in the past. You could see that previously struggling hotels and boarding houses had been repainted and expanded. They were focusing on buying food and other supplies from local firms – Tim told me when I was there that they had invited 500 local firms to a supplier's conference and 478 of them turned up.
When I asked Tim what was the aim of the Eden Project. He said: "To change the world". This is ambition on a grand scale! And social entrepreneurs and social enterprises across the UK are changing the world for many people – employing their drive, determination and entrepreneurial thinking to build human capital, bringing people back into employment, reviving communities and improving the environment. The enthusiasm and dedication of the people involved are deeply impressive, and the results they are achieving are too. And so that is why I feel particular enthusiasm in welcoming the launch of this new fund, and the prospect of new social investment which it will open up.
Today I work closely on social enterprise and corporate responsibility bwith my colleague Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector, whose department now leads in the promotion of social enterprise across government. My department, the Business for Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), maintains a strong interest in this area and I do personally too.
The most recent research shows there are now at least 55,000 social enterprises in the UK, thats roughly 5% of all businesses with employees, contributing between them a combined turnover of £27 billion per year. The sector employs around 650,000 people. A survey of 15,000 social enterprises found one in five had a turnover of more than £1m per year. Since Community Interest Companies (CICs) were launched in Spring last year as a company form designed with a lock on assets specifically for social enterprise, almost 700 have been created. So we are talking about a sector which is already large, already contributing a great deal, but where we are convinced there is a great deal more potential to come.
The social enterprise action plan – ‘Scaling New Heights’ was launched by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, in November 2006 on Social Enterprise Day – part of my Department’s annual sponsorship of Enterprise Week.
The Action Plan sets out a series of actions to be undertaken by the Office of the Third Sector, other government departments, and Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) to foster an environment in which social enterprise can thrive. It covers four areas:
All of this is, of course, work in progress, but we will be highlighting – in the not too distant future - the achievements made during the first year. So do look out for that.
My department, the department for business and enterprise which the Prime Minister has given a very clear brief to act as a strong and effective voice for business and enterprise at the heart of Government, has a number of contributions to make:
I should also add that my department has also begun work in developing a new cross-government Enterprise Framework. We have done well over the past decade in Britain – not just on social enterprise but on enterprise more broadly, with 4½ million businesses in Britain, more than we have ever had before. But we want to look afresh at how we can encourage existing businesses to develop and grow, as well as to encourage the formation of further new businesses, and so a new focus on small business growth will be at the heart of the new policy which we will want to publish in the Spring.
We are committed to ensure that the needs of social enterprise are embedded within that work, so that social enterprises also can make the most of the opportunities opened up by the new stability in the British economy of the past decade – what the IMF described earlier this year as “a decade-long record of strong and steady macroeconomic performance”. That has been the foundation for Britain’s rising prosperity over the past ten years, and social enterprise is key in ensuring that prosperity is broadly based and widely shared.
There are many challenges still facing the sector. All of us have an interest in seeing it succeed and grow, and I look forward on behalf of my department to working with initiatives like Breakthrough, seeking to tackle the barriers to growth, and with everybody here, to realise the potential of social enterprise for every community in the country.