Census 2015: The How, Where and What’s of the Scottish Social Enterprise Sector

Six event


CJ: I now know everything there is to know about the Census. Go ahead, you can ask me anything.

President Bartlet: How many people live in the United States?

Sam: (After CJ gives him a look) There is some material we haven’t covered yet.

The West Wing

1.6 ‘Mr Willis of Ohio’

Earlier this month, the first national Census of social enterprises was published, comprehensively detailing for the first time the size, scale and impact of this sector across Scotland. The research, conducted by the Social Value Lab, in partnership with a range of key stakeholders[1], attempts to capture an accurate, in-depth snapshot of today’s social enterprise ecosystem from Shetland to Dumfriesshire – and aims to draw out the unique quirks and characteristics that set this sector apart from both traditional charitable organisations and the for-profit business sector. Scotland has been described as ‘the most supportive environment in the world for social enterprise”[2] and the growth of this sector over the past ten years may go some way to support this statement – with 42% of all social enterprises in Scotland formed in the past decade and more than 200 forming each year, according to the report.

The geographical spread of this sector is also a key finding to emerge from this research – with some particularly interesting statistics surrounding the link between rural areas and social enterprises. 22% of all social enterprises in Scotland are found in the Highlands and Islands, impressive given that this region contains only 9% of Scotland’s population. For our own research here at GCU, this finding may have particular relevance. Dr Danielle Kelly, a researcher within the MRC/ESRC funded CommonHealth project, is working alongside Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to evaluate the role of social enterprises in the development and empowerment of local people across a range of rural communities. This report clearly details the importance rural and remote communities place on social enterprises – a term that can incorporate traditional community enterprise activity, the trading activities of charities and the work of social entrepreneurs.

Within the Census, Shetland was identified as having the highest incidence of social enterprise with 4.1 organisations per 1000 population. This finding correlates with a forthcoming paper from one of my colleagues in the Yunus Centre which found an increasingly important role for social enterprises within the co-commissioning and co-delivery of public sector services across Shetland (Macauley, in prep).

Another aspect of the Census that drew my attention lay in the dichotomy between the social enterprise sector and the private sector in terms of gender equality. The report highlights a stark difference between these sectors. Three in five social enterprises reported that their most senior employee was female – this represents a statistic of 60% female CEOs (or equivalent) – a drastic difference when compared to only 9% equivalent positions within FSTE 100 companies. This inclusive workplace pattern is repeated across a range of factors; be it disadvantaged or marginalised groups, locally based employees, previously unemployed young people or issues such as paying the national living wage and the use of zero hour contracts. Social enterprises consistently come out favourably in terms of inclusive and ethical employment practises when compared to other sectors and/or the national average.

However, a note of caution is sounded within the Census surrounding the future of this sector. The past 12 months were widely recognised within the sector as unfavourable for economic development with only 13% of respondents categorising the current economic climate as having a positive impact on their work. The main constraints to the future development of this sector were seen to be lack of time and/or capacity to dedicate to the development of their trading activity and the decline and insecurity of current grant funding opportunities.

Overall, there seems to be significant scope for optimism within this sector. With the widely acknowledged expectation, however, that demand for services will continue to increase along with rising operating costs – challenges abound for this sector. If, according to this Census, reliance on grant funding is unlikely to be reduced in the near future, then support for this sector from grant funding (as well as other types of finance) need to reflect this to ensure that our much lauded social enterprise sector continues to thrive.

This represents just a snapshot of the findings from the Social Enterprise in Scotland: Census 2015 – the whole report can be accessed from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise website here.   


[1] Big Lottery Fund, Community Enterprise in Scotland, Co-operative Development Scotland, Firstport, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Glasgow Caledonian University, Nesta, Scottish Enterprise, The Scottish Government, Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum, Senscot, Social Enterprise Academy, Social Enterprise Scotland, Social Enterprise UK, Social Firms Scotland, and Social Investment Scotland.

[2] Ainsworth, D. (2012). Scotland’s Social Enterprises Seem to Have It Made. Third Sector. Retrieved 15th September 2015, from http://thirdsector.thirdsector.co.uk /2012/03/28/scotlands-social-enterprises-seemto-have-it-made/

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