Plan a Is Obsolete: Where Is Plan B?

Posted: 31 May 2011, in Blog

Plan A is obsolete – where is Plan B?

John Lewis has produced a new innovation in social enterprise with the announcement of its fixed rate bond for “partners” and JL card holders. Investors also get a 2% gift voucher bonus. The jargon is all about the development of non-banking (disintermediated) lending channels to improve macroeconomic performance etc.

Meanwhile, George Osborne has resurrected Enterprise Zones (EZs) as a stimulus for entrepreneurs outside the South East. Up here, Mike Russell has suggested that students at Scottish universities could get a degree in 2 years if they met certain criteria – university flexibility is the watchword du jour.

How about a wee bit of joined up thinking here?

Why don’t we accept that in some respects, universities can display socially entrepreneurial characteristics? So, why don’t we start an innovation revolution here in Scotland?

We could transform university campuses into CIC EZs and declare that any business based there will receive tax breaks, knowledge transfer opportunities and exclusive funding opportunities. These CICs could issue JL style bonds to investors for the purchase of land/buildings to create new campus EZs or the purchase of local authority owned business parks to turn them into campus EZs.

I’d insist on the condition that the new CICs had at least one external social enterprise partner represented on the board. Governance would not be dominated by university executives but would require a majority of “externals”. Politicians would be explicitly barred from board membership.

As for education, more students could gain from a university education if we got truly innovative. How about some students electing to enrol at a National University of Scotland and be able to receive their education virtually/online/distance learning via a system of lectures and material available to download and use at their convenience? Offline traditional teaching could still be provided but the choice of what style of education to purchase would be in the hands of the consumer – not the supplier. Each existing university would have to open up its expertise “to the nation” but could build their businesses as they saw fit. Students could buy their education from different universities.

I’d also want competition in the EZ market so I’d give Social Landlords similar powers to create new EZs on their land. To prevent RSL dominance of the governance structures they would also require a majority of non RSL externals on these boards too – with the proviso that no politicians would be allowed and that at least one external social enterprise had to be represented.

There, money, governance, enterprise and HE all joined up. Is that innovative enough for you?


NOTE: This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition or endorse any political position.