As readers of this publication will know better than anyone, community transport operators provide an essential service which is becoming ever more important for communities across the UK. Research carried out by the Campaign for Better Transport has identified that in the last financial year 301 bus routes were withdrawn in England and Wales. At the same time, local authorities saw bus budgets cut by £20.5 million. The future for many routes is looking uncertain, with thousands under threat as councils struggle to fund them.
Bus routes are arguably the most vital part of our public transport infrastructure; they connect communities and are essential to the wellbeing of individuals across the country. Shutting down or underfunding routes and reducing services can increase isolation and have a hugely negative impact on the wellbeing of vulnerable people who are reliant on access to regular, reliable transport.
Community transport providers, on the other hand, offer an alternative model to business as usual, one rooted in a different idea of what it means to be a business. Instead of focusing on shareholder value, community transport providers create a different kind of value for the people they serve. But what if we were to take those values, that determination and the desire to do what is best for the community, and apply it to the whole transport system? Actually, what if we were to take this further and apply them to businesses as a whole? That’s what social enterprises are all about.
What drives a social enterprise?
Social enterprises can be found in nearly every part of the economy, from selling consumer goods to running health and social care services. There are over 100,000 of these businesses across the country and they contribute an impressive £60 billion to UK GDP. This makes the UK social enterprise sector three times larger than the agricultural sector! When it comes to employment, around two million people work for a social enterprise, a level comparable to the creative industries sector. More and more people are deciding that when they start a business, or a charity, they want to set it up as a social enterprise.
With mainstream business lurching from crisis to crisis, there is a growing feeling that businesses have to be about more than just the bottom line. People are increasingly demanding more from companies and this is especially the case amongst young people whose faith in the ability of mainstream businesses to act in a way that benefits society is waning. Deloitte’s millennial attitudes survey found that less than half of millennials believed that corporations behave ethically, with three quarters seeing businesses as focussed on their own agendas rather than considering their impact on wider society. Too often, a company’s actions make them seem part of the problem, obstacles in the way of creating a fairer, more equitable society.
Social enterprises on the other hand are set up to reduce inequalities. They are creating jobs and opportunities for the people and areas that need them the most (69% support people from disadvantaged groups such as the homeless, long-term unemployed or those with disabilities) and around a third work with the most deprived parts of the UK. They are more diverse than mainstream businesses with 41% being female led, compared with just 7% of FTSE 100 companies. And they pay fairly, with 78% paying the real Living Wage.
What social enterprises are not is a niche, an add-on to the mainstream economy. Their economic contribution makes them a major player and they are changing attitudes and behaviours across different sectors. Whether its coffee carts creating jobs for the homeless, creative agencies set up to break down barriers for young people or community transport reducing isolation and keeping communities together, social enterprises are re-defining what it means to be a business.
Social Enterprises and Community Transport
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the values that drive and underpin social enterprises are the values that drive and underpin community transport. Community transport providers show how public transport can be run in a way which puts people before profits. They don’t run their services to make money and they don’t grow and expand for the sake of providing shareholders with better returns. Whatever it is they do, and however it is they do it, it’s all for the benefit of their communities.
An increasing number of community transport providers are deciding that the mission and vision that underpins their organisation fits hand in hand with being a social enterprise. If you raise most of your income by trading for example, this fits with how most social enterprises model their businesses. Those community transport organisations who have already moved to a social enterprise model have done so by moving away from grant income to generating more of their income through trading; through fares, contracts, group hires or providing driver training for example. Becoming a social enterprise isn’t necessarily about changing your legal structure; social enterprises can be registered charities or community interest companies. It’s about taking the money you make and putting it back into your services and your community – the operating model that is at the heart of the community transport sector.
Through working for a community transport provider, you are part of a much wider movement of organisations who use their generated income to provide social good, which includes soap manufacturers creating jobs for visually impaired people, GP practices set up to support asylum seekers, community owned energy projects and pubs, community health services pioneering integrated health and social care, ethical supermarkets, fashion taking on the sweatshops, and so much more. You are part of a movement which is showing us what the future of business can look like. Find out more about Social Enterprise at www.socialenterprise.org.uk
Community Transport Association UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Cardiff no. 1985361 Registered office: 12 Hilton Street M1 1JF. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1002222. Charity Registered in Scotland No. SC038518.