New social enterprise Census showcases successes and challenges

Posted: 10 February 2023, in Blog

Social Enterprise in Scotland: Census 2021 is the latest comprehensive study into the scale and scope of social enterprise activity in Scotland. 

The report also allows us to understand the characteristics and practical needs of Scottish social enterprises. 

Building on the first report in 2015, then subsequent reports in 2017 and 2019, we can now begin to map the longer term trends.  

Crucially it’s the first post-pandemic data we’ve seen and gives us a flavour of the experiences and needs of social enterprises coming out of the Covid lockdown period. 

The statistics provide a key tool that can be used to help us better plan business support and investment.  

It also greatly assists as we seek to raise the profile of social enterprise to the public and media, as well as build support among policy-makers, both local and national. 

Fiona Rae, Chief Executive of Aberdeen-based social enterprise, CFINE, says: 

“The Social Enterprises in Scotland Census 2021 report is an important piece of work highlighting the current state of Social Enterprises collectively across the country. It has shown that Social Enterprises have been at the forefront in responding to the global pandemic, providing vital frontline services and support, and more recently in responding to the cost-of-living crisis. Significant challenges continue to face our sector, and so by pulling together data and information from across the network in Scotland, this provides vital information and analysis for local and national policy makers, strategic partnerships, and others.” 

It’s fair to say that the most interesting numbers for many of us are the headlines.  

It’s reassuring that, while some of the latest figures don’t show the leaps in growth of previous years, other statistics do and others hold up well in the face of huge external pressures. 

According to the report, the number of social enterprises in Scotland stands at 6047, having grown by just a handful since 2019 – but having shot up from 5199 in just 6 years.  

While there was only this small increase since 2019, this rise is still significant, as it happened in the face of a number of business closures over a very challenging period.   

There were almost 90,000 full time equivalent jobs provided by social enterprises, up from just over 81,000 in 2017. 

Rural Scotland continues to lead the way in the number of social enterprises per head of population, with a consistent 33% total of all social enterprises in a rural location, despite only having 10% of Scotland’s population.  

19% are in island and remote communities – with only 6% of the population – making these latest figures another big success story for rural Scotland. 

A huge 85% of social enterprises now pay the voluntary real living wage, up from 68% just 6 years ago.  

Women’s leadership of social enterprises is now an impressive 71%. This is in stark contrast to private sector businesses of all sizes, for example, only 6% of UK FTSE 100 companies have women CEOs.   

The economic contribution of social enterprises continues to be a valuable and increasingly important asset to Scotland’s economy. 

This contribution, known as Gross Value Added (GVA) was £2.63bn, up from £2.4bn in 2017. It’s this type of figure that really brings home the economic value.  

At the same time we must recognise the many, often difficult to quantify, economic ripple effects of the strong social missions of social enterprises. 

In addition we have other strong economic and financial indicators, with the total net worth of social enterprises at £7bn, up from £3.9bn in 2015.  

While income from trading was at £3.3bn, up from £2.3bn in 2015 and generated collective surplus at £524m, up from £300m in 2015.  

Sean Duffy, CEO of The Wise Group, the social enterprise headquartered in Glasgow says: 

“This report establishes the sheer scale of the contribution that social enterprise is now making to Scotland’s economy. Socially progressive and focussed, social enterprises combine the rigour of the private sector with the ethics of the third sector. The Wise Group stands squarely with Social Enterprise Scotland in celebrating this elegant and modern means of doing business with purpose. By being not-for-dividend, social enterprise can reinvest profits in communities, building community wealth and establishing new partnerships. Doing so, Scotland becomes richer – socially, culturally and financially.” 

Of course it’s important to recognise the wider economic and social context too.  

With Brexit, lockdowns and a global pandemic, increasing inequality and climate change, the challenges continue to be immense. A subsequent cost of living crisis has certainly added greatly to these challenges. 

Having said that, the resilience and creativity of Scotland’s social entrepreneurs, has been impressive, according to the report.  

Social enterprises have demonstrated a capability to adapt and learn, in order to deliver their unique social and environmental missions, supported by financial support from government and other funders. 

The new Census report gives us a great platform in which to catalyse and drive forward Scotland’s social enterprise movement. 

We look forward to working with frontline social enterprises, partner organisations across different sectors and with government, to ensure the continued growth of our inspiring social enterprise community. 

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland 

This blog is the first in a series that will dig deeper into the headlines behind the new Census report.