Tuesday, April 28, 2009

how pubs are like charities (or why we should spend more time in our local...)

a recent report by the ippr argues that local pubs should benefit from mandatory rate relief in the same way that charties do - its reasoning is that pubs, like charities, offer a vital service to their local communities, acting as a focal point for meetings, events, sharing news and everything else that creates our 'social capital'.

initially, I thought "but what about community centres", but then realised that actually pubs may indeed offer a more valuable resource to their communities: pubs are seen as relaxed, informal venues where people are more open to ideas and each other in ways that are more spontaneous and so creative, whereas community centres tend to be quite formal, structured affairs, and while offering valuable space for meetings and activities, are less able to encourage such dynamism as can be found down your local in an evening...

so - who's coming for a drink? next rounds' on me...

UPDATE: 22 March 2010

it seems the government may have picked up on this post and and a more recent one about the value of pubs, and have recently announced a multi-million pound programme of support to enable communities to take over their own pubs!
news item

UPDATE 27 Feb 2012

it now seems that pubs are being touted as the next ideal workspaces for mobile and homeworkers too! see - http://blog.worksnug.com/post/12923085754/two-pints-of-lager-and-wi-fi-please-pubworking-an

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's the point of social enterprise?

There seems to be a storm brewing in social enterprise land over exactly what the purpose of social enterprises are - some say they're all about creating a social good, while others think that they're more about challenging accepted ways of working and ushering in a new business model - see

Some will look at this debate and perhaps justifyably ask "why can't it be about both?" - after all, if social enterprises prove to be successful businesses, then their model(s?) will be adopted by other businesses (and there are parallels for this in the fairtrade movement - once upon a time Nestle said they'd never do fairtrade as they felt the market wasn't large enough and their customers weren't interested, and yet here they are now with their own fairtrade branded coffee...)

And then there's the question about which model? The 'headlines' of social enterprise may lead you to believe that the Community Interest Company is the only 'true' form for social enterprise, yet some CICs are finding that this form is undermining their ability to trade as they wish to (perhaps the most vocal of which is the social enterprise ambassador Tim Campbell), and many others are still fiunding that regular companies, IPSs, charities, and even PLCs, are sufficient and appropriate after having their rules 'tweaked' to reflect social enterprise values (you know, those things that define them 'cos there's no legal definition of what a social enterprise is...).

So if social enterprise isn't about being a single business model, but an 'enlightened approach', then focussing on promoting "the model" is doomed to failure before it begins as (1) there is no single model; and (2) if social enterprises aren't being encouraged and supported to be the successes that they can be, then there will be no showcase or evidence to argue with the private business world about the strength and validity of the model...

...so - are we now any clearer about what the purpose of social enterprise is, or just as confused as ever now that some of the sectors' leading luminaries are at loggerheads over what its actually all about?

Or perhaps we should leave the philosophical stuff to those fortunate enough to be paid to do such things and get on with changing our bit of the world for the better in the faith that others will catch on by seeing our success...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

did I really change the Community Interest Company legislation from my bedroom?

Shortly after the Community Interest Company, the new legal form created to encourage social entrepreneurs, came into being, I challenged some of the rules that any would-be CIC had to adopt as I felt that they would force social enterprises adopting them to have to compromise some of their core and defining values (see this social catalyst blog for details), from the grandeur of my bedroom!

At the time various 'interesting' things happened -
  1. a number of blogs were started opposing my actions,
  2. a number of people directly approached me to offer their 'off the record' support,
Fast forward 2 and a bit years years to the present day and the current CIC regulator is staging a well publicised open consultation on the some of the financial aspects of how CICs operate. What wasn't so well publicised is that they've also had a consultation on some of the aspects of the legislation that govern how CICs are managed by their members, boards, and are subject to the overarching Company legislation. Within this 'quieter' consultation the regulator says that they intend to change some of the rules that I previously lobbied against - so have I really changed the governance of over 2,000 social enterprises as a result of what I got up to in my bedroom?

This is told here not as an egotistical example of how great I think I may be, but to encourage you all that where you see a policy or piece of legislation you think isn't right, then take action and lobby - even if its just you sitting in your bedroom one afternoon (as I did when I orginally challenged the CIC rules), the regulator may come to agree with you in time and do the right thing!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

the true value of pedal power

A recent feature in New Start magazine highlighted the problems that increasing volumes of journeys by car are causing to our neighbourhoods and profiled ways in which encouraging cycling can perhaps best address this (Driven to the Threshold, New Start, Apr 2009).

As someone who has a concern for the environmental impact that I create, and seek to measure how this and my other values are being realised and the outcomes that occur through a social accounting process, I've always measured the different modes of transport I use as a self-employed consultant-type.
These have always posted to my website for the last 4 years, and I'm pleased to say that in answering the call to use the car less, I managed to use my bicycle for 18% of all journeys I made in the last year (for comparison 26% were by car, and the national average for bicycle journeys in the UK is a paltry 2%).

And this isn't just about me feeling self-righteous, but wanting to show that having concern for the environment can be reconciled to the demands and structures of todays economic environment. I work all over the country, yet am able to make nearly 1 in 5 of all journeys by pedal power. And this value of enviromental concern has other benefits as well: in addition to the (yawn) beneits to health (which everyone knows about), there are also financial benefits: most people know that the tax office offers a claimable expenses rate of 40p/mile for business travel when the journey is by car, but how many know that there's a rate for bicycles too? At 20p/mile it'll soon mean that I'll be making money when cycling!

(see also - www.cyclescheme.co.uk for tax free bikes for work)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Excited about having to re-apply for your current job?

In the current climate, many organisations are taking hard looks at their costs, management and staffing arrangements - one of the side effects of this is that people are being increasingly asked to re-apply for the jobs that they currently do.

Within my guise as a self-emplopyed free-lancer I'm not immune to this - some of the bodies that I have an ongoing engagement with are now asking all their 'consultants' to reapply so I find myself in the same position as many people on a payroll.
And while some of my counterparts in these instance have felt 'miffed' and undervalued (after all, they reason, isn't their value and contribution obvious??), I've found it to be rather useful - its forced me to step back and consider just what I can offer them, how I work with them, and what I've gained from this particular relationship. All of this is usually stuff that you [should] be getting through regular appraisals if you're an employee, but as a sole trader, there are scant opportrunities for such reflection and recognition.

So next time you're asked to reapply, don't consider it a chore, but rather a unique type of opportunity to think about what you've done, what you can still offer and maybe what you might want to be doing next...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

£10,000 anyone?

The National Lottery has just relaunched its small grants programme, Awards for All - up to £10,000 to support local community inititiaves and projects (subject to certain criteria);

and its those revised criteria that have caught my attention - as part of the eligiblity criteria that applying groups have to meet is their organisational form, and these are listed as including incorporated charities, not-for-profit companies (or companies limited by gurantee), co-operatives and Industrial and Provident Societies!

As these forms are extremely prevelant amongst social enterprises, should we take this opportnity to further and better impact upon our communities' needs, or should we instead return to philosophical arguments about how right it is to accept grants when we seek to trade as an enterprise?
I for one take the view that as lots of private, for profit compaines regularly benefit from grant support, then we should too where we can (and where's its appropriate - it may not always be...)