What social enterprise means to Scotland
The Herald, by David Ross
Eighteen years ago residents bought their Inner Hebridean island for £1.5 million and set up a community-based business.
At the time, Eigg’s islanders did not really know what a social enterprise was.
But the lack of knowledge has proved no bar to setting up a successful example of a business model which has seen more than 5,000 set up in Scotland, sustaining 112,400 jobs. One fifth are in the Highlands.
More than 200 are formed each year, according to results of the first large-scale census of social enterprises.
Social enterprises trade using a business model, but reinvest any profits tackling social problems, improving communities and the environment or giving people another chance in life.
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, which owns the island, fits the bill on several counts. Since it staged its historic buyout in 1997 with little public money, the trust has overseen a 50 per cent increase in population to nearly 100 and the birth of more than 20 businesses. It all helps the community enjoy near full employment.
It created its own green grid by connecting three hydro-electric schemes, its four- turbine wind farm and solar energy development to a high-voltage network through seven miles of buried cables. This now produces more than 92 per cent of the island’s energy needs.
Trust secretary Maggie Fyffe is not surprised that the census has also found that 22 per cent of all Scotland’s social enterprises are in the Highlands and Islands.
She said: “What we found buying the island, setting up our renewable energy grid and other projects, is that we really had to organise things ourselves. There is help out there, but you have got to get the ball rolling yourselves. I think this is often more the case in an area like this where communities are distinct geographical entities, separated from each other by land and sea.”
Apart from community buyouts there are plenty other social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands from wind turbines on Lewis and petrol pumps in Applecross to an Inverness cafe which gives local youth a start in the hospitality industry denied them elsewhere.
But the census also shows that Edinburgh and Glasgow account for 26 per cent of all social enterprises; 60 per cent have a woman as their most senior employee; while 68 per cent of social enterprises pay at least the recognised Living Wage.
They generate £1.15bn in combined traded income and have collective assets worth £3.86bn. The Gross Value Added (GVA) figure is approx. £1.7bn
Other examples include The Big Issue, the media co-op, Glasgow Housing Association, and the Homeless World Cup.
The research was commissioned by a range of public and social enterprise organisations.
Rachael McCormack of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, speaking on behalf of the project steering group, said:
“This excellent report confirms the scale and vital contribution of social enterprise to society and to the economy in the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland as a whole. Social enterprise is a business model that helps tackle social issues, promote equality and achieve sustainable economic growth. "These are the reasons that we attach so much importance to social enterprise and are working with social entrepreneurs to strengthen leadership, innovation and the business dimension of their enterprises. Working together in this way will help achieve our shared ambition to grow the social enterprise community year on year.”
Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, said: "Social enterprises are making a real difference to the lives of people in our communities and have a major role to play in our drive for social justice. This census shows they are embracing the principles of fairness and equality with more than two thirds of social enterprises paying at least the living wage and with women taking on senior positions in 60 per cent of these organisations.
"We look forward to working with the sector in the period ahead."