Activism

John Bird: Social enterprise should be in the mainstream

Big Issue founder Lord Bird urges the government to follow Scotland's example and nurture social enterprise in all areas of the economy

John Bird, founder of The Big Issue

Big Issue founder John Bird has said the time has come for him to run a prison.

The Big Issue founder, who credited his spell in prison with teaching him to read, told the House of Lords that he “would do a better job than Group 4!”

The remark came as Bird urged the government to keep momentum going and push social enterprises into the mainstream in 2017.

He called on the government to commit to helping social enterprises – businesses with a social or environmental mission – become a widespread alternative to orthodox economics.

In his rallying cry for the sector, Lord Bird said he wanted to see “a social enterprise industry that actually gets to the parts of society that big business cannot get to.”

He asked the UK government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in setting out a 10-year strategy to look at ways in which social enterprise can be encouraged to operate in every single area of the economy in every single part of the country.

He also suggested social enterprises could even be encouraged into running parts of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. “I would love to run one,” said Bird. “I would do it better than Group 4.”

Bird’s call for an expanded sector is grounded in greater-than-ever interest in the work of social enterprises. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her vision for a “shared society,” mentioning social enterprises several times in her big speech at the Charity Commission. May talked about “creating an environment in which our charities and social enterprises can thrive.”

Social Enterprise UK praised May’s “glowing” comments about the sector, but urged the government to go further and include social enterprises in its wider industrial strategy.

“It is refreshing to hear the Prime Minister reiterate her intention to lead a government which is active and which rejects a laissez-faire approach to social issues,” said a spokesman for Social Enterprise UK. “Government can and should help create the conditions for this movement to accelerate its growth.”

Social Enterprise UK estimates that there are 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24 billion to the economy and employing nearly one million people. The Big Issue was one of the first social enterprises, and is still leading by example.

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