Data and trends form vital insights into social enterprise activity and needs. As an avid consumer of SEUK’s State of Social Enterprise reports, understanding the regional breakdown of this evidence is essential to our work at Big Society Capital and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment. As such, we are proud to have supported SEUK, for the second time, to produce reports for each of the nine English regions from the State of Social Enterprise data. We believe these reports inform us as we seek to work together to remove barriers and improve access to finance for social enterprises and charities. And more than that, we think that this evidence has the potential to shape and drive change at a local and regional level across the UK.

We call on public bodies, investors, capacity builders, social enterprise places and social enterprises themselves to draw on and contribute to this evidence base.

The key takeaways from the 2021 data:

North of England

In the North East, there were a higher proportion of start-ups and lower average turnover size and staff numbers. Social enterprises here were more likely than the national average to have increased turnover and made a profit but were not so optimistic about future growth prospects.

The North West has major urban centres of long-standing social enterprise activity and rural areas with a much newer but growing social enterprise presence. The strong historic presence and corresponding higher proportion of larger co-ops influenced the average turnover and workforce size. They also tended to have less diverse leadership teams, which accounts at least in part for the comparatively fewer female leaders and leaders from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds in this region.

Financial performance over the previous year as well as turnover and workforce growth expectations were higher in Yorkshire and the Humber than elsewhere. More social enterprises were trading with the public sector here, and a slightly lower proportion of income generated through trading compared to national figures, which could be part of the explanation for greater resilience in this region.

Central Belt

The East Midlands was also optimistic about growth in the year ahead, although the region hadn’t seen such strong performance over the previous year. There was a lack of confidence around finance here, perhaps related to the high proportion of start-ups in the region.

The West Midlands expected high levels of innovation in new products and services in the year ahead and fared comparatively well over the last year in terms of profit-making and turnover growth. Interestingly though social enterprises in this region were less likely to pay the living wage and are more likely to think that social investment is too expensive and see cost as a barrier to borrowing.

In the East of England, social enterprises were more likely to have made a profit and increased turnover than was the case elsewhere in the country. They were comparatively more confident about finance and less likely to say that there was a shortage of affordable finance.

South

Although social enterprises in London were more optimistic than the national average about growth, they were more likely to have increased borrowing, used reserves, been concerned about cashflow and less likely to make a profit than the UK average over the previous year. Exporting and operating beyond the UK were much more common for social enterprises in the capital and may have made them more exposed to the impacts on global trade from COVID and Brexit.

Social enterprises in the South East were less likely to apply for or be concerned about grant income compared to the rest of the UK and correspondingly generated a higher proportion of their income through trading with the general public however, this does not translate directly to profit-making which was less likely here than the UK average.

And in the South West social enterprises collaborate – they were more likely to support other social enterprises, to trade with them (including as their main source of income), and to rely on other social enterprises for peer-to-peer support.

Calls to action

Layered with other recent SEUK reports such as the Reclaiming the Future and the APPG report on the impact of Covid there is a rich story that we can all use to evidence the need for change.

Following the publication of the regional SOSE reports, SEUK, Big Society Capital and Access are establishing partnerships with strategic actors across local government and support organisations to coordinate evidence and produce deeper insights into location-specific social enterprise knowledge that can more directly inform policy, strategy, programmes and more.

Later this year, SEUK will announce details of their Social Enterprise Knowledge Centre, which will bring together evidence-based work to provide a comprehensive repository of social enterprise data and information.

Calls to action to use the regional report evidence:

  • PUBLIC BODIES (Combined authority, mayor or devolved administrations): understand the opportunities and barriers in your region.
  • CAPACITY BUILDERS: reflect on the findings for their locality and look at how your vital support can address these areas through better information, collaboration and lobbying.
  • INVESTORS: Social investors to understand the nuances that exist across their region and embed this in approach and future product design.
  • PLACES: Social Enterprise Place explore what makes places different, how you learn from each other, remove barriers and capitalise on opportunities
  • SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: use the reports as an evidence tool in building and growing your business

They say that ‘knowledge is power’ and if we can apply this knowledge then our hope is that a better way of doing business will be a significant factor in achieving the ‘levelling up’ vision that so many of us subscribed too long before it was a policy tagline.

Melanie Mills is Senior Director, Social Sector Engagement at Big Society Capital

Sarah Colston is Director of Learning at Access – The Foundation for Social Investment