- Geof Cox's Blog
- The dark side of the social enterprise boom...
- What would a social enterprise economy look like?
- Social Enterprise Law in South Eastern Europe
- Where does social enterprise fit in postcapitalism?
- Can social enterprise save public services?
- Greece, France - making enterprise more social...
- Small is the new big!
- Social impact is no longer an option for big brands
- What on earth is Social Enterprise UK doing?
- Asset Based Strategy Matrix
- Copyright infringement is NOT theft
- Impact2 Social Enterprise Conference
- Not So Grim Up North
- CASE's 30th Birthday
- Guardian Blog
- The Senscot Bulletin
- The Performance of Socially Responsible Investment
- Social Investment – or the Emperor's New Clothes
- Such a definitions mess that NOBODY can now clear it up?
- Social Enterprise Mark... or Social Enterprise Brand?
- Why social enterprise needs its own approach to intellectual property rights
- Does the social enterprise movement lack leadership?
- Business models based on greed and exploitation
- Not many jokes...
- NHS Social Enterprise Spin-outs - the real story
- Will tendering ever work for social enterprise?
- Learning from the Open Source Movement
- The Guardian & Social Enterprise
- The focus on a few kinds of social enterprise is blinding us to a bigger picture
- What do social enterprise and chocolate have in common?
- From Albania Again
- Guardian Social Enterprise Summit
- A conflict common to many co-operatives...
- Social Enterprise in Albania
- 2010 social enterprise visit to Russia - 1
- Day 2 in Rybinsk: -18°c
- Post 3 from Russia - Back to Moscow
- A typical question...
- Sounding like David Cameron...
- Do structures stymie social enterprise?
- 'Right to Request' tender collapses
- The number of 'social enterprises' just doesn't add up
- Social Firms Conference
- What is it, exactly, we’re doing with Social Firms?
- Social Firms UK Annual Conference
- Social Firms and the CIC Consultation
- What is social enterprise?
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 1 - Moscow, Schekino and Kaluga
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 2 - Rybinsk
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 2 - Vyshniy Volochek & Ostashkov
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 3 - Moscow & Aleksin
- Ostashkov Conference, October 2008
- Selected old blog entries
- Public Service Transformation
- Organisational structures - and restructuring
- Doing social enterprise
- Knowledge should be free
- Associates and trusted partners
- Джеф Кокс, информация на русском языке
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'.
Running a Social Firm now is really hard. The essence of the business problem is that Social Firms have higher staff support and supervision costs than their competitors – they must have, or their disabled staff could in fact work in open employment with its often minimal levels of support. It's an extreme version of the old problem: how does the good employer compete with the bad? The rather crazy Social Firm business proposition is to go into the market place with automatically higher costs and try to compete! In fact, of course, Social Firms have all kinds of ingenious ways of solving this fundamental business problem, such as running 2 businesses, say a travel agency and a training provider, which can cross subsidise each other within the shell of a larger enterprise. Tax concessions would make life so much easier - except that it is the very difficulty of the business model, the commitment to both people and to business, and the humanity and imagination and creativity that it requires, that make Social Firms such unique and fulfilling workplaces.
Social Firms are, you see, not just about creating jobs for disabled and disadvantaged people; they're not even just about the whole list of very laudable values and achievements around enterprise and empowerment that all good Social Firms strive for. They are also, crucially, experiments in a whole new way of doing business, of people relating to each other in the workplace; of challenging the alienation that is still what work means to most people.
The danger is that tax concessions will, precisely, focus exclusively on the creation of poor quality jobs; that exploitative commercial operators will move in, or, more likely, those big empire-building charities that can be just as... well... corporate.
Perhaps it's because I've just read Paul Kingsnorth's book Real England – an elegy for the individualistic and local and quirky – including many businesses rooted in alternative values and lifestyles - that are fast disappearing under the bland and multinational and corporate. Perhaps it is better to have any job – even if it's not much fun – than no job at all. Perhaps it's just because I like all those crazy characters you meet at Social Firms conferences (like the guy who's recruitment strategy was to phone his local job centre and ask them to send down all the people they thought would never find a job – they sent 16 - he hired them all).
But to me, these individualistic and radical alternatives to normal business practice are at the very heart of the Social Firms movement. Of course we should try to reach and help more people, but I wonder if tax concessions and 'getting to scale' will really mean quantity at the expense of some of the very human qualities of the wonderful Social Firms we have now.