The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by UnLtd (BS 73)

—  UnLtd backs over 1,000 people a year to start new social and community ventures.

—  UnLtd supports up to 100 a year to get to scale.

—  Our offer includes seed funds, development support, networking and connections to the people who can make their projects and social ventures succeed.

—  This is the largest programme of support for start up social entrepreneurs in the world, and gives a unique insight into the motivations, opportunities and barriers for the Big Society.


Our favourite definition was first described by Nat Wei, "The big society is one where nobody feels small" Our mission is to reach out and unleash the energies of people who can transform the world in which they live. We call these people social entrepreneurs. Through our work we have found that anyone, from any walk of life can and do change their world. Learning from doing, these individual people not only create social impact themselves, they can inspire others to join them.


The impact of reductions will be one of anger, the degree of which is yet to be realised. As the reality of reduced services hit, people will rise to take action. The key to Big Society succeeding is to galvanise this energy. The motivation to start social ventures will increase, however with less support and public money it will be harder to scale. As a consequence public services will be messier, with good provision in some areas and little or poor provision in others. Development of the Big Society idea will be chaotic, evolutionary in nature and the biggest problem will be the slow rate of change, mismatched by the speed of cuts.

Our research shows that social entrepreneurs themselves believe they are needed more than ever. Following the Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010, a survey for UnLtd found that over eight in ten (83%) respondents saw an increased role for social entrepreneurs in addressing social issues, with a further eight in ten (80%) of these foreseeing provision of innovate solutions to social problems. Furthermore, almost three-quarters (74%) of social entrepreneurs thought there would be a greater need for their services as a result of the cuts.

They also believe that the government should value the role of social entrepreneurs by increasing community cohesion (66%), a key part of the Big Society agenda. In light of this, over half (58%) of social entrepreneurs were positive about the Big Society, despite adverse impact on their own income


As part of the voluntary and community sector, the role of social entrepreneurs will be huge in providing localised solutions and in taking an innovative approach - social entrepreneurs have a long history in tackling social problems in ways that more traditional methods might have failed. Yet how can they do this effectively? The problem of capacity is one of time and scale - to get enough social entrepreneurs working at a big enough scale as quickly as possible.

There are estimated to be 238,000 people starting social ventures a year, yet currently, support agencies involved collectively reach only a single percent of the population wishing to start a social venture. Compared to the traditional third sector support infrastructure, the agencies involved are very small and have little public recognition. Yet the sector is developing fast. UnLtd's strategy is to help develop the social entrepreneur support sector into an effective system of help which makes it much easier for social entrepreneurs to get going and thrive.

At UnLtd we have found that communities facing problems contain within them the people who are the solutions. On recognising gaps in existing provision, they have set up organisations in response to need. Because of the fact they are based in the community they serve, they are often best placed to listen to and understand real needs. Social entrepreneurs successfully engage with hard to-reach groups, marginalised or disadvantaged groups. Our research on UnLtd Award Winners found:

—  Over a third come from the most disadvantaged 20% of localities;

—  Almost as many women as men are award winners; and

—  40% come from minority ethnic groups (compared to 11% of the UK population).

Almost six in ten Award Winners provide a service related to key areas such as health, education or sport and recreation. The majority of Award Winners benefited local people, young people under 18, people on low incomes, unemployed people and people with disabilities. The variety of social impact is immense - from providing educational books, increasing fitness and solving health issues, to inventing new approaches to environmental problems.


Social Entrepreneurs are well placed to tap into grass routes solutions, creating innovative, effective and often more efficient solutions to entrenched problems. However the lack of working capital and capacity will be a core problem faced by social entrepreneurs, particularly when faced with the current priorities of the procurement process used for commissioning public services. UK. This is a people-powered movement, not a structural one, so the challenge will be revolutionising the commissioning process accordingly.

Scaling up and replication also needs to be considered when thinking about public services commissioning. At UnLtd we are actively working with these areas, and some of the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs have been highlighted in our recent suggestions for the Red Tape Task force. Removing barriers to scale up is crucial, and we welcome the openness to change and readiness to listen from the Task force. Examples of practical changes we have put to the task force are included for information. Appendix 1: Barriers to Scaling Up

UnLtd Research shows that even with diminished resources due to cuts, social entrepreneurs see the government as having a role in helping social entrepreneurs to scale up or replicate (60%), particularly by making public procurement easier (60%) or by removing barriers (54%).

 UnLtd's strategy is to back people as social entrepreneurs in their communities, creating social value through large numbers of people developing many community level ventures. To find out more about individuals in your areas, their role and capacity for success, see the attached document: Appendix 2: Social Entrepreneurs in your communities


Renewable energy Feed-in Tariff

This is a policy mechanism designed to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources. Under a feed-in tariff, eligible renewable electricity generators paid a premium price for any renewable electricity they produce. There should be protection for those involved in community benefit or social enterprises (not for those maximising profit for private gain).

Financial Services Promotions Act

Provide exemption from the Financial Services Promotions Act for social purpose vehicles to make it easier to raise money, which could also be a tax generator. Currently this is only available for provident societies.


Remove the VAT penalty on back office functions across more than one body. Currently, if a charitable body outsources their back office function for efficiency, they pay 20% VAT penalty. For example, if a charity hires an HR or Finance person, there is no VAT. If they do the more efficient thing and outsource HR or Finance from a bigger charity, there is a 20% VAT penalty. The tax regime thereby incentivises inefficiency.

There is an existing EU directive requiring member states to remove VAT on inter-charity trading (see charity tax group for info) but the UK government has yet to implement it. Ideally, the exemption would be extended to other social ventures beyond charities

Community Interest Companies

Clarify the position of CICs under the Business Rates Relief programme. Charities get an automatic 80% relief with 20% discretionary. For CICs it is up to the local authorities, which have the discretion to provide rate relief of up to 100%. For example, UnLtd Award Winner Goodwill Solutions which is based in Northampton, currently get charitable rates relief there, but in Daventry (the town next door) they do not. The CIC Association are currently in the process of mapping local authorities to confirm what their policy is regarding CICs and have further examples of those that have had relief, those that have been declined and successfully appealed - and CICs that have just been declined.

Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR)

Currently the system works on the investor (financial institution or HNWI) receiving tax relief of 5% per annum on the total amount invested for 5 years, i.e. if invests £1m, then £50k per annum in tax relief. However, the tax relief is not cumulative and therefore is on a "use it or lose it" basis each year. Banks have traditionally been the principal investors in the scheme however as many have posted losses over the last couple of years, they have been unable to benefit financially from investing in the scheme and as a result are reluctant to extend existing investments (i.e. to renew after 5 years) or invest further capital.

Reclaimed funds

When people are reunited with bank accounts, ask them if want to donate it to Big Society Bank and make eligible for Gift Aid. This could be an "opt-in" policy, such as donor cards. Making this an easy to do option would be key - like the Mission Fish link up with eBay, which allows sellers to give proceeds from their sales to a non-profit.

Commissioning culture

Generally statutory bodies could be encouraged to work and commission across their budget silos and move towards commissioning person-centred outcomes, payment by results and shared objectives. These could be models of services that all relevant stakeholders contribute funding towards, which would help them look to more holistic solutions across departments.

One example could be a "Head of Profession" to break silos for commissioning - in a similar position to the Chief Scientific Officer. This would be someone with the authority to cut across organisational boundaries within government and the different silos being created around what commissioning means.

Another example could be cross department outcomes and recognition of readily used outcome measures.

"Value for Money"

Definition is very different for the Treasury to the one used locally - need to look at full value across the lifetime of the contract.

One click credentials

All accessible on-line, so one submission can be used for multiple contracts. Currently, a social enterprise being contracted by the public sector has to send last three years of accounts and constitution every time - most social enterprise are registered charities so this info is already online at the Charities Commission:

—  A further development could be to move away from commissioning to tariff funding - ie a set price per item. This is already in place for green energy (feed in tariff) and recycling (landfill tax) as well as for some direct payments for social services. Our experience is that tariff funded areas see much greater innovation and rapid growth for social ventures than commissioned sectors, as the provider does not have to wait for commissioning decisions and is free to innovate in methods of achieving the outcome.


Remove barriers for ex offenders to engage at a senior level. The commissioning processes that this is a barrier for includes those affecting homelessness (NOMS, MoJ, DCLG, LAs, DWP, NHS). It means that ex-offenders are unable to talk to Senior Management - even though they may have contracts with them. There is currently no legal process to prevent this, but it is a policy of some local authorities. Best practice procurement is to consult with stakeholders and potential suppliers in any case and there is scope for ex-offenders to play a more active role in the procurement process specifically. Organisations such as Vision Housing have proved that a deeper understanding of the root causes of problems can inspire more innovative solutions.

"Office in a Box"

A Basket of documents eg employment fire regulations, insurance, all in one place. This would combine the standard tools needed by a start up venture and put them on a smartphone - basic bookkeeping app, basic CRM, possibly suppliers database etc, plus interactive toolkit for advice. It is a functional tool for business rather than just an advice service. This could be created by a social venture support agency and funded by the government for social enterprises.


Fitness for Your Future - Enfield

Fitness for your Future provides a variety of health and fitness topics and courses to people of all ages and has been leading the way in tackling unhealthy lifestyles and obesity, particularly in schools. Through educational programmes which improve the social and physical well-being of children and adults, they are addressing the issues of mental health and obesity at the workplace, schools and hospitals. Fitness for your Future now operates in 27 primary and secondary schools throughout Enfield. Latest results show that 60% of pupils had reduced their waist circumference and 36%had lost weight

As well as running programmes for adults in the community, they also employ 7 local people as instructors. It's also recognised that large numbers of these individuals come from deprived backgrounds, therefore are unable to access appropriate and affordable training to tackle the problem.

Elmet Archaeological Services Limited - Barnsley

Elmet is a sustainable social enterprise, organising community archaeological digs and providing education and training to disadvantaged people in the former coal mining communities around South Yorkshire. Their aim is to create a route into learning and accredited training for people with low educational aspirations, and facilitate employment in the fields of heritage, planning and archaeology. They also work on developing positive pride and identity within local communities, address issues of fear and mistrust between generations. They currently engage with over 200 people per year.

Nosh and Natter - Dover

Nosh and Natter is a community food club for those aged 18+ to remedy social exclusion and isolation and bring about a sense of community again. It's run by local people, for local people, and provides nutritional food, all made to order, at very reasonable prices - no meal costs over £2.50.

They also liaise with local JobCentres to find unemployed individuals who can assist with service delivery and offer them the chance to gain qualifications, such as NVQ's. This empowers individuals, increases self esteem and leaves them with a recognised qualification. Key local organisations (i.e. NHS professionals, Age Concern, Benefits Agency, Citizens Advice) regularly deliver valuable info and advice to the local population during the daily club. Currently in the pilot stage, if this is successful, there are plans to roll out Nosh and Natter Food Clubs 24/7 nationwide.

Lylac Ridge - Newport

Lylac Ridge offers an alternative, informal medium of education providing hands on experience through a programme of animal assisted therapy and animal orientated activities. Lylac Ridge's main focus is to provide opportunities for children and young people, although there are also programmes for all age groups. The project uses the natural connection between animal and human interaction, increasing the level of ownership and care that people need to give to animals and therefore interlinking relationships with everyday occurrences and emotions. These transferable skills can then be harnessed to address issues and situations they need to control such as anger management and behavioural issues. Structured activities encompass the role of educating, confidence building and improving the skills of individuals to focus and maximise their strengths assisting them with any issues they feel they may have.

Greenbean Cars - Leeds

Greenbean Cars are Leeds's first environmentally friendly private hire pre booked taxi service company. It comprises of a fleet of petrol electric hybrid cars with the objective of reducing the environmental impact of clients and simultaneously raising awareness of environmental issues to a wider audience. Greenbean aims to initially service the city council and local special schools although Environment Leeds & Transport Leeds have indicated they are keen to use the service for contracts they publicly tender. Additional market research has led to dozens of companies who would consider switching their taxi accounts to Greenbean.

March 2011

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 December 2011