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Review of the year 2013 (Part 1)

2013 was another big year for the UK. The economy finally came out of recession, Andy Murray became the first British man in a billion years to win Wimbledon,  and we all got introduced to our new overlord, Prince George. 

But what did 2013 bring for the UK Social Economy? In the first of two posts, I take a look at the good, the bad and the downright ugly of the UK Social Economy in the first six months of this year. 

January blues? Like someone who’d got carried away at the office party, the UK Social Economy spent January reaching for the Alka Seltzer. Now the mistletoe had been packed away, cracks began to show in the marriage of convenience between social entrepreneurs and financiersBen Metz wrote a challenging article questioning whether impact investing actually puts power in the hands of investors and, in doing so, stifles social change and innovation. This followed on from a piece by Dan Gregory, who argued that the language around social investment has radically changed over the last ten years, making it all about the investor and not about the finance needs of social ventures. As 2013 rolled on, this would emerge to be a pertinent conversation. 

The Snowman cometh: February saw zero temperatures and snow sweep across Britain. I spent much of the month in Eastern Europe however, where the temperature was -8c with two feet of snow. The big news for Feb of course was the return of Milan Baros to his hometown club of Banik Ostrava. I witnessed a scintillating 0-0 draw against SK Dynamo České Budějovice, in which Baros came on and did nothing. For this guy in the picture below though, this was the most exciting thing to happen in Ostrava on a Saturday in February. EVER!

The Social Value Act - cause for celebration?
The Social Value Act – cause for celebration?

Presumably there were similar scenes in the UK, which saw the introduction of the Social Value Act, which would turn out to be another big conversation piece for 2013.  This wasn’t the only sign of growing political support for the Social Economy however.

The World Economic Forum kicked off in Davos armed with flowers and chocolates, in a bid to convince those jaded social entrepreneurs to get back in to their nice warm bed. Of course some representatives had ulterior motives, as it emerged that the UK was lagging behind the rest of the G8 on solving the youth unemployment crisis. The Social Economy would be increasingly touted as the solution to this over the rest of the year. 

Picking up a gallop: Findus lasagnes became even less appealing when it was revealed in March that they contained horse meat, alongside a range of other products (though I’d always had a ‘nagging’ feeling they might). There was no horsing around in the UK however, with several key developments including the announcement of the Social Stock Exchange and the Chancellor Jeffrey Osborne pathing the way for the introduction of a Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) for the first time. Jeffrey also accepted the recommendations of Lord Heseltine’s report on regional development, resulting in the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Spring in their step?
Spring in their step?

Out of the darkness? As the snow melted away the UK finally came out of recession in April, prompting increased confidence in Whitehall.  With renewed swagger, the UK Government increased the minimum wage (up 12 whole pence an hour for adults and a whopping 5p for young people) and introduced the ‘Bedroom Tax‘, penalising housing benefit claimants who have a spare room. Meanwhile, they punished those tax evading millionaires and what not by taking 10% of their tax bill. Clearly, we’re all in this together. 

No doubt they were discussing such hypocrisy at length at the Skoll World Forum. Presumably just after they discussed disruption, innovation, disruptive innovation, intrapreneurship, impact measurement (x2) and the mother of all buzzword-laden articlessocial innovation in acceleration – building the social impact bond ecosystem‘.

Still, at least we’re keeping it real. While it is unlike Social Economy practitioners and commentators to jump on bandwagons or make tenuous links to popular news stories, the sector welcomed the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death by thanking her for making social enterprise a reality. And no, not because she gave us lots of social issues to address. 

Heating up: things really started heating up in May, and not just because the Sun finally came out. UKIP ruffled more than a few feathers politically with a successful turnout at the local elections, half a million people were found to be using Food Banks, and Dame Mary Marsh released the findings of her ‘social sector skills review’. The sector of course galvanised around the latter issue, unleashing a flurry of websites on an unsuspecting world (read more here).  

Boiling point: June was by far the biggest month of the year for the UK Social Economy, as London hosted the first ever G8 Social Impact Investment Forum. The Government took the opportunity to announce loads of stuff it had, erm, already announced, such as the Social Stock Exchange and the Social Investment Tax Relief (see March). One genuinely new announcement however was the news that Big Society Capital is going to dish out 250 million big ones to good causes over some unspecified period.

June also saw several other notable events, including:

  • the launch of the Social Economy Alliance, made up of over 20 of UK’s leading social sector organisations campaigning to support Britain’s social economy. The Huffington Post suggested it could be “one of the greatest business stories in our modern history”. So no pressure there then!
  • Richard Branson also got in on the act, launching The B Team. It was never heard of again.
  • Elsewhere, economist Vicky Pryce celebrated her release from prison by chairing an event asking ‘Can Social Finance meet social need?‘ The event was used to officially launch and discuss a report that had been around for a while, but which would turn out to be quite influential on future discussions of social finance later in the year. 
  • The wheels started coming off at the Co-op Bank, as they sought to plug a £1.5bn gap in their finances. The true extent of this farce would only emerge towards the end of the year. 
  • Finally, the sector went stats mad! Firstly, SEUK released their State of Social Enterprise survey, which showed “almost half of social enterprises sought finance in 2012, twice the number of SMEs, but…access to finance remains single biggest barrier to growth”. Then on the back of a separate report, Nick Hurd claimed that there are 688,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing more than £55bn to the economy! In the same speech he also claimed to have had dinner with Bigfoot and know where Elvis lives (possibly).

But how do you think the first half of the year shaped up for the Social Economy? Were you pleased, disheartened? Let me know below.

Watch out for the second half of this review before the end of the year. In the meanwhile, have a great Christmas!

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