VitalSpark: Coalition Blog

Posted: 12 May 2010, in Blog

Did you catch the news that the (English) NSPCC and the (Scottish) Children 1st could be heading for a fall – out?

The stushie is over the issue of one charity threatening or being perceived to threaten another’s business and political power, influence, hegemony, raison d’être and prospects. Does this move by the NSPCC offend you? What about the workers who may lose jobs and the clients or beneficiaries who may feel “uncertain” about the services they require? David Cameron says he wants to see social enterprises grow much larger and have greater influence in England – will these social entrepreneurs ignore market opportunities in Scotland?

I’m conflicted by this. The reality of competition already exists within the social economy. Social enterprises and charities regularly compete with each other for grants, funding, SLA’s and contracts. I believe in the benefits of competition but I’m not so daft that I believe in untrammelled markets. So, if non – Scottish social enterprises and charities are coming here to do business how should we react? Should we get all upset if a rival crosses a border? Do only national borders count or can social enterprises or charities cross local authority borders with impunity?

My fear is that our movement copies the Trade Unions and we end up with our own anti-competition version of a “Bridlington Agreement”.  I think we should compete and use our advantages to win business – even if that means that the playing field is occasionally less than perfectly level. C’mon (social) enterprise is not an environment for the delicate and chaste!

Maybe Scots social entrepreneurs should be looking for opportunities in the rest of the UK to build their businesses. Will we see mergers, transfers of engagement or even takeovers?  Look at the merger of Age Concern and Help The Aged. They have a big insurance business to defend and develop.

Famously J.K. Rowling left the MS Society because of strife and national rivalries and of course there are “UK”, “GB” or “English” big brand charities operating in our High Streets right now. We Scots, much more than our English friends, tend to “get” and get upset about, the subtle nuances and the obvious differences of the meanings attributable to the various names, identities and loyalties of the nations and unitary and devolved state structures that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That in part is why we have the SNP.

Whatever you think of the NSPCC or Children 1st, my advice is to ensure that your business fights to remain “a player”.