The development of the Inclusive Finance CIC has provided support to CDFI’s across the region, which are key providers of finance to social enterprises. This was launched in June 2007. However, we do not have any evidence to indicate that equity investment mechanisms have been developed successfully for social enterprises to date.
The results from the Plunkett Foundation Mapping Exercise in 2006 have also identified some gaps in finance provision for social enterprises. Given that, during our consultations with social enterprises, this was identified as a key support need, it would appear that addressing this action should represent an ongoing objective of social enterprise support organisations across the South East.
Given the likely future public funding climate, it is questionable as to whether grants will be readily available to social enterprises in the future. However, two projects have been developed as part of the Cultural Shift initiative to address this issue. SEEDA have also led on the piloting of the State Aid Protocol for Local Government nationally, alongside the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s State Aid Unit.
A significant number of social enterprises we interviewed were not familiar with support services through which they could access finance.
However, it should be noted that this was based only on a small number of social enterprises. Given that the national restructuring of Business Link was completed relatively recently, it remains to be seen whether engagement levels with social enterprises will increase. The training provided to Business Link employees is likely to result in them being better equipped to meet the needs of social enterprises.
However, it is notable that many social enterprises that we consulted as part of this assignment expressed a wish to more locally based signposting provision. This trend was not significantly different to the findings emerging from consultations we carried out with social enterprises in the North West region, in response to the effectiveness of the Sub-regional Social Enterprise Action Plans.
To overcome this potential challenge, Business Link will need to continue to work closely with the County Networks in the future. The County Support Networks could potentially provide some signposting support at a sub-regional level that could complement any signposting support delivered by the regional Business Link. The signposting support would be linked to any ‘mentoring’ type support services to be delivered in the future.