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With the party political conference season underway, we’re drawing attention to the significance of social enterprise in the UK economy and the much greater role it could play in the country’s future.
Along with the Nationwide Building Society and Social Enterprise UK, we’ve uncovered the true contribution that businesses with a social purpose are making to today’s economy.
Social enterprise generates £60bn
The Hidden Revolution report uses new methodology to estimate the value of social enterprise. Businesses like our Co-op, Nationwide and 100,000 smaller organisations, are generating £60bn into the UK economy – which is 150% more than previously thought. Together, we employ 2 million workers. That’s the same as all of the creative industries in the UK combined. We’re going to use the new research to lobby for changes in government policy that will encourage further growth of the sector.
Politicians from all the main parties have recognised that we need to make profound reforms to the way we run the economy. Theresa May has called for a more “responsible capitalism”. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants to replace the current “failed model of capitalism”. Sir Vince Cable has said that capitalism needs a “makeover”.
It’s clear that the public wants change too. Polling commissioned by the Legatum Institute last year found that the top three words associated with capitalism by the public are “greedy, corrupt and selfish”.
But it’s not as if there’s a shortage of good practice that we can turn to for a better way of doing business.
The Co-operative approach
Our Co-op has always been run for the benefit of our millions of members and that’s why we can plough our profits back into local communities up and down the country. And at a time when there’s global concern about the transparency of big business, our ownership model has democratic accountability built-in to it. The UK would benefit greatly from more businesses that are run for a social purpose and where long-term sustainable decision making is the norm.
In the new report we’re calling for some simple government initiatives around regulation and releasing ‘seed money’ that could help to kick-start an expansion of the co-op/mutual sector and encourage more people-focused decision making in business. We’d also like to see business schools and university economics departments introduce social enterprise thinking into their curriculums to encourage a different understanding of commercial success.
I think there’s an even broader point to make too when it comes to the power of co-operation and I hope the two main Party leaders will take this on board in their conference speeches.
I’m thinking of how we run our communities and our schools; how we approach a post-Brexit economy for the UK; how we make trade relationships fair at home and abroad; and how we tackle climate change globally. We must adopt co-operative ways of working to solve the challenges we face in ways that achieve a common good. I want our Co-op to model how this can be done so that others are inspired by what co-operation can achieve.
We’re proving that an ethically driven approach to business, which puts people and planet first, can create commercial success. It’s true for us and it can be true for the country as a whole.
CEO, The Co-op
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