When the Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropist and social reformer Robert Owen founded the co-operative movement in the nineteenth century, he created an economic model which combined commercial success with better conditions for workers – laying a foundation for cohesive communities, higher education standards and improved health and well-being.
Those principles have never been more important than today: with the Welsh social enterprise sector now grown to more than 2,000 social enterprises employing 55,000 people and contributing £3 billion to the economy – providing services, jobs, training and volunteering opportunities in local communities throughout Wales.
2,000 social enterprises employ 55,000 people and contribute £3billion to the Welsh economy
19th November saw the celebration of Social Enterprise Day – with Business News Wales and Social Business Wales sponsoring a thought-leading Social Enterprise meeting of minds, bringing together prominent figures from Welsh business and government, discussing the need and opportunities to embrace a range of social enterprises capable of delivering sustainable employment, inclusive growth and greater social equity to local economies and communities
Chair Derek Walker, CEO of Wales Cooperative Centre was joined by a distinguished panel including Jonathan Burnes, Programme Director of the Swansea Bay City Deal, Jane Davidson, architect of the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act, Cllr Rosemarie Harris, Leader of Powys County Council, Nicola Somerville, Strategic Lead of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal and Alwen Williams, Portfolio Director, North Wales, Economic Ambition Board.
The debate was rooted in the practicalities and potential of alternative economic models to help every Welsh region achieve its economic ambitions, with the leaders of two highly successful businesses – Dylan Huws of North Walian employee owned media company Cwmni Da and Andrea Wayman of the Elite Paper Solutions and Elite Clothing Solutions social enterprises- sharing their stories of success, shining light on the paths that can be taken to create businesses that make a big difference to both economic results and the everyday lives of millions of people.
Dylan stressed the benefits for communities and businesses themselves in transitioning from a traditional business model to a shared ownership model, evidencing that the positive impact of employee ownership had been felt during the pandemic and had been an instructive and informative experience. “People have been absolutely brilliant because they feel an ownership” he said, speaking of employee responses to being furloughed. “I’m an absolute convert and I’d recommend making the transition to anybody.”
“I’m an absolute convert and I’d recommend making the transition from the traditional commercial model to anybody.”
Andrea discussed the benefits of social enterprises being able to respond quickly to change and customer needs, drawing on her experience of Elite Clothing Solutions adapting to create scrubs for NHS workers during the pandemic – emphasising the importance of modernising the procurement process to better include social enterprises. “It isn’t difficult for organisations to procure with social enterprises, and I’m trying to break down the red tape that has previously existed with procurement,” she told the panel.
“It isn’t difficult to involve social enterprises in the procurement process, but effort needs to be made to create a competitive but fair environment”
Each of the regional leaders present confirmed there was an important role of social enterprises in the Growth Deals, with Cllr Rosemarie Harris confirming that the procurement opportunities of Powys County Council are open to all businesses, including social enterprises, but that local authorities needed to do more to support social enterprises in pursuing these contracts.
Alwen Williams concurred with Cllr Harris:
“Greater effort needs to be placed on access to the procurement process, so we create a competitive but fair environment for social enterprises to win contracts and keep the pound in the local economy,” said Alwen. “This is at the heart of our strategy for North Wales. We want to invest the Growth Deal funds in a way that creates this sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”
“This is at the heart of our strategy for sustainable and inclusive economic growth across North Wales”
Nicola Somerville, spoke of the recently launched £10 million Challenge Fund – the pioneering Cardiff Capital Region initiative to find solutions to public sector challenges by working with local communities, including social enterprises. “We want the impact of these outcomes to be felt in our local Welsh communities, in all enterprises” she said – and Jonathan Burnes also spoke of the need for social enterprises to be included in the procurement process of the Swansea Bay City Deal, detailing ambitions for them to be involved in major infrastructure projects:
First level of supplier/ main contractor
“At Swansea Bay City Region, we have created procurement principles and one of these is to maximise community benefit on each contract,” stresses Jonathan. “If, for instance, we have a Tier One contract for a first level supplier or main contractor on a project, we will make sure that gives every opportunity to social enterprises to be in that supply chain, working with the project team and engaging with local businesses to ensure there’s a community benefit perspective given to every project that we do.”
“If we have a Tier One contract for a first level of supplier or main contractor, we’ll make sure every opportunity is given to social enterprises”
Jane Davidson, former AM for Pontypridd, Jane Davidson made a telling contribution, emphasising the importance of considering the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act, underlining the view that responsible business models were fundamentally important for future generations.
The importance of making the procurement process more accessible to social enterprises – and improving communication between local authorities and businesses to achieve this – was at the very heart of the debate; and in the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing the detailed thoughts of Jonathan Burnes, Programme Director of the Swansea Bay City Deal and Alwen Williams, Portfolio Director, North Wales, Economic Ambition Board, on how they see social enterprises helping them achieve their economic and societal ambitions in two very different and highly diverse regions.
Social Business Wales are a team of experts that help social businesses to become sustainable, enabling them to have a strong platform from which to grow. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Welsh Government and is delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre. It is part of the Business Wales service.