ResPublica launches blueprint for David Cameron’s Big Society

ResPublica launches blueprint for David Cameron’s Big Society

The Venture Society’, a flagship report from ResPublica’s Civil Society and Social Innovation Unit, was launched at the SHINE UnConference on 13th May 2010. The report, part of a project commissioned by UnLtd, the largest provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the country, urges the new coalition government to create support infrastructure for start up social entrepreneurs, slash bureaucracy and introduce a tax change in its seven point blueprint to help create David Cameron’s Big Society.

The report has already received a wide range of media coverage.

The Venture Society, part of a project commissioned by UnLtd, the largest provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the country, paints a mixed picture of what it calls the Venture Society. It says that the UK has high levels of social entrepreneurship, but illustrates numerous barriers to the development of new social enterprises.

It details how government can reform its own structures to secure more support and investment for social entrepreneurs at the grassroots.

The report recognises several improvements made over the last 13 years, but criticises the existing network of support currently available, revealing that just one per cent of the 238,000 social enterprises trying to start-up in the UK secure the funding or advice they need.

The report calls for a radical new structure to support social entrepreneurs by developing a network of a ‘community lablets’ that would act as an incubator for new social enterprises by providing the basic infrastructure, advice and funding to dramatically boast the number of start-up enterprises.

The report recognises that key to the success of the lablets would be a strong connection to the local area and draws heavily on successful models in Denmark and the US.

It lays out plans for the community lablets to be supported by established social enterprises and organisations, like UnLtd, who would develop a set of specialised hubs or ‘Social Labs’ that would test, drive, and support innovation in the sector.

The large social foundations would crucially provide financial support and guidance to these new enterprises, which is still the major reason for failure of social enterprises.

And in a major change of direction the report recommends that regulatory powers are transferred to the Social Labs who would also get the power to approve new flexible venture-lite structures for social start ups funded by community lablets.

It also calls for the creation of a Bureaucracy Task Force that would cut the burden of regulation on early stage social entrepreneurs, which it concludes represents a major barrier to new social enterprises.

And calls for the establishment of a number of pilot virtual advisory boards, which would work with existing providers to lever in more funding into the sector.

The report backs the creation of a new fund and plan to support mutual, co-operative and foundation models, which can then make local decisions about venture priorities. And it calls for a switch in funding from existing programmes to provide greater support towards start-up costs and local infrastructure.

In the longer term, the report backs the development of a capitalised social investment bank, targeted tax breaks for new investment vehicles and a community reinvestment act. Formalise the process by which service delivering Whitehall departments pay for the demand reduction benefits of social ventures.

The report calls on the new Government to place the responsibility for implementing this ambitious programme and new structure of community lablets and social hubs with the Cabinet Office.

And it concludes by recognising the dire state of the public finances and claiming that these changes can be made from within existing departmental budgets.

Speaking before the conference Cliff Prior Chief Executive of UnLtd said: "The Venture Society challenges us all to go beyond what we do now to make social entrepreneurship mainstream, and to be just as innovative and determined in our mission as are the social entrepreneurs we support. There are tough times ahead for the UK and we need to make it easier for people to do good, with seed investment and proportionate regulation. Right now we are in the position where it is easier for a teenager to start a youth gang than a youth club – we must turn that round, and this report gives us radical new ideas to help us do so.”

Phillip Blond founder of ResPublica added: “We could and we must do more to encourage the good that people do. I have often thought that all businesses should think of themselves as social enterprises—and today it seems that industry and technology mean this is possible, while enlightened business strategy makes it both desirable and profitable. It is timely, too.

“We are bored of juggernauts, of large entities, of remote brands offering identikit goods and services; however necessary these organisations are, they are insufficient to meet varied need and are often unable to respond to local demand. One section of the report that stands out for me is the idea that consumers don’t want abstract symbols, they want concrete stories. And there are no stories better than local, community stories. This is a metaphor for the role of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs as we try to build a new economic model for the poorest and least advantaged members of our society.”

Download full report here