Social Enterprise Action Plan

As the Scottish Government team responsible for Social Enterprise moves from the Third Sector Division to the Wellbeing Economy, the sector also enters the last two years of Scotland’s 10 year Social Enterprise Strategy and the last of the three Action Plans, we met up with Chris Martin (CEO) and Kim Wallace (Deputy CEO) from Social Enterprise Scotland, to chat about how the final draft action plan is shaping up.

Some of our readers will not be familiar with the Social Enterprise Strategy and the three year Action Plans. Can you explain how they were developed and what role they play in supporting Social Enterprises in Scotland? 

The 10 year Social Enterprise Strategy was originally launched in 2016 but the idea for a vision that united social enterprises started back in 2014 when national support agencies and intermediaries from the sector came together and developed the ‘Vision for Social Enterprise’. This then became the catalyst for further conversations with the Scottish Government to develop a national strategy together with the sector. 

The three year Action Plans are how we implement the strategy in a practical way. Resources and support are allocated based on what the sector says is important, and these will have a direct impact on social enterprises. In 2016, the first plan was launched, and then after 3 years, we reviewed how much progress was being made and adapted it for the next 3 years. This again was followed by a review and indepth sector led consultation period which has formed the basis for the final action plan of this strategy period.   

What kind of consultation has happened so far – who have you engaged with to drive the new action plan?  

Each time a new plan is required, there is a substantial consultation period where key stakeholders and social enterprises are invited to give feedback on how they feel the sector is progressing and where things could be improved.  

The consultation to inform the next action plan ran from September 2023 to the end of January 2024. We brought all key delivery partners together, as well as Third Sector Interfaces and Social Enterprise Networks. We also engaged with the Academic Forum to gather Intelligence about the need for additional research. 

To ensure that social enterprises on the ground are the key drivers of the action plan, we made sure to reach out far and wide and give people lots of opportunities to share their views. For example, the recent Social Enterprise Census helped us identify around 450 groups who undertake trading activity but who didn't self-identify as social enterprises. As well as engaging with those who overtly think of themselves as social enterprises, this approach ensured breadth and depth to our consultation.

What themes and issues are emerging as priorities? 

The first draft of this action plan is currently with the Scottish Government so we can’t discuss the draft actions till it is formally signed off, but we’re not far away from being able to share it with everyone. 

What we can say is that the conversations during this consultation period have focused particularly on how we can improve the ecosystem that is already in place. An important question was how to ensure local and national support organisations work well together.  The sector felt that there was an opportunity to improve systems for referrals and create effective ways to share information across partners to make things easier for social enterprises to get the support they need when they need it. Opening up market priorities for social enterprises will be a priority in the next plan. 

Are there financial resources behind this that people can access? 

Given that the focus of this plan will be the further development of what is currently working and that contractual commitments are in place, a significant proportion of resources are already allocated to the continued delivery of services, such as Just Enterprise and Firstport’s Start Up Programme.  However, there is still some flexibility for new actions.

What happens next? Are there plans for a new Strategy? 

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but we are in talks with the Scottish Government about how important this is. We have agreed on the importance of consultation in developing any new strategy, which will take time and planning.

How do you think the move from the Third Sector to the Wellbeing Economy, will impact grassroots organisations? 

All signs are pointing to this being a good move for social enterprise.  It shows the Scottish Government recognises the valuable contribution of social enterprise to the national economy whilst also putting ‘wellbeing’ at the heart. 

How will SES continue to foster Third Sector relationships when so many groups straddle the sectors?  

Our membership groups that work across both sectors will have an important part to play in nurturing and strengthening relationships. We regularly run information and learning exchange sessions with members, around 70% of whom identify as charities. We're committed to continuing this work as a meaningful way to support and share learning across our membership. Social enterprises have always crossed the third sector and the economy so this approach is natural for us.

We have also taken on the secretariat for the SEN and TSI Social Enterprise Managers / Coordinators Group, ensuring that the cross-over goes both ways and that the social enterprise sector will still be part of the conversation within the Third sector.  

Feedback about the new action plan pointed to an opportunity for support agencies and partners to collaborate more effectively and that this will help social enterprises on the ground.

What are you most optimistic about in the action plan?  

We hope that the new action plan will continue to strengthen our sector. There were some very frank and constructive conversations during the consultation period, and it was a great opportunity for people to check in, take stock of how far we've come, be better informed and be clearer about the steps we need to take next. Although there are some unknowns at this juncture, the level of engagement has been very positive, with some clear outcomes to work towards.

During our chat with Chris and Kim, we had a chance to look back over the past 8 years of the social enterprise strategy in Scotland, and it was fantastic to see how much more awareness there is of the sector, both politically and among the public, of its contribution to our economy and communities. There are lots of positives to be taken from the recent consultation and the development of the new action plan, during this time of great change in the economy and the sector.

Social Enterprise Scotland membership is free for those generating below £250,000 per annum, and the more people that join, the louder the social enterprise voice will become. Join today to keep up to date with everything going on in the sector and take advantage of their training and events.