Geof Cox's Blog

Social Firms UK Annual Conference

Social Firms UK is to be congratulated on another excellent annual conference this week. I am however unsure about one aspect: the decision to lobby for a waiver of PAYE and NI for any company that employs more than 25% disabled staff. Clearly this would be of enormous help to Social Firms, while at the same time could surely not be seen as special treatment since it would be open to any business. There is, however, always a price to pay for tax concessions – for example in greater regulation – somebody else deciding what 'disabled' means, and maybe changing their mind every other year.

Moreover, there is a danger here that goes right to the heart of the Social Firms movement, and for me this was reinforced by the emphasis several of the conference speakers placed on 'getting to scale'.

What is social enterprise?

Geof Cox 2006Geof Cox at the Inspiring Communities Conference

Why is it that the most intense discussion at every social enterprise event is still around defining social enterprise? Even though everyone purports to be tired of the subject and sees the need to move on?

At the recent Inspiring Rural Communities - the National Rural Social Enterprise Conference I attended the workshop on Developing a UK Social Enterprise Research Programme and witnessed again the core problem with this definition issue:

social enterprise is an activity - a verb - not a thing, so it eludes any attempt to to pin it down to any particular kind of structure or business form

Interestingly, the workshop facilitator's proposed working definition was in fact verbal - doing business not primarily for profit - but when I pointed this out in the workshop the immediate response from somebody was 'but by that definition Tescos could be a social enterprise' - back again immediately to the illusion that social enterprise is something you are not something you do!

Selected past blogs

A social enterprise visit to Mongolia

Mongolia is, as you'd expect, an extraordinary place. The first thing that strikes you is the climate - it's right in the middle of the biggest land mass on earth, and it's high too. Ulaan Baatar is just below 5,000 feet, which if you're used to sea level is enough to take your breath away if you run up 2 or 3 flights of stairs (it did mine anyway) - but most of the land around is much higher. Because of this and the nearby Gobi the air is really dry - at first you want to keep drinking water every few minutes, not because you're really thirsty but because your mouth just dries up all the time. Mongolians call their country 'the land of blue sky' because almost every day is cloudless - if they have visited Europe, even the south, the first thing they say about it is: 'Oh! the sky was so grey there'.

As you can imagine this makes for really extreme temperatures, from 40 degrees in summer to -40 in winter - Ulaan Baatar is the coldest capital city in the world - but even more extraordinarly it can go from hot to literally freezing in the same day. There are deep valleys in the countryside where the ice never melts, so you can stand there dripping sweat from your head but freezing from the knees down! We saw something of the summer/winter change (there isn't really any spring or autumn) on the middle weekend of our visit - going from day-time weather much like a British summer day to the middle of snowy January over just one night.

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