Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Power of Social Investment, Part 2.

Social investment is not just for big organisations! A large part of the portfolio for the Social Investment Business (SIB) is support for community enterprise. Indeed it's where we started out; as The Adventure Capital Fund, some 8 years ago. An interesting example of the power of loans, for small community based organisations is provided by the Alt Valley Community Trust. This is a Liverpool-based community anchor and one of the largest community based providers of training and education in Liverpool. It serves one of the poorer areas of Liverpool, itself one of the most deprived parts of Europe. The immediate area that it serves is largely made up of social housing and it experiences many social problems with a worklessness rate of 23% and 12% of the local population claiming incapacity benefit.

This is a dynamic and progressive community enterprise with a solid track record of asset development and delivery of community benefit. I went to visit them 2 years ago! They have set up:

*The Communiversity – a community education resource for adults, including a community cafĂ©, dance studio and serviced offices;

*The Skills Centre – community education for 14 to 19 years olds specialising in alternative curricular and vocational skills such as health and beauty and holistic therapies;

*Randles Bridge Farm – a farm providing fresh food to local primary schools and training opportunities for people with special needs;

*Hebden Parade – retail development providing training and employment opportunities in construction skills.

They now employ over 80 people full-time, provide 45 paid training opportunities and have a combined turnover in excess of £3 million. For the local community, this growth has resulted in better and more diverse training and education facilities, and a greater chance of securing employment.

Over the last four years the SIB has invested £3million (£2.7m in loans and £0.3m in grants) in this organisation. And the key lesson is that community organisations can have big ambitions and can grow to deliver those for their citizens. This was a group of people who saw the depth of the local problem and determined to do something about it. With loans we were able to underwrite this ambition. And we have done that with other community groups. We have gone beyond grants. Beyond contracts. Gearing up for scale.

So just as the commercial sector grows through access to capital, we now have a chance to do likewise. SIB is currently running the Community Builders programme to make loans to groups that want to expand through investment. So whether it is a large national charity or a small community group access to capital can transform ability to grow and support beneficiaries in a way we have not had before. It's an exciting prospect.

That is why I am so passionate about getting Government to set up a Social Investment Bank now and to get the Banks to cough up the unclaimed assets. If only our dear friends in the banking sector could pause a minute and consider that handing over these assets now might help win them a few friends. They need them and to put it in context we want £460ml in unclaimed assets (almost certainly an underestimate) whilst the Banks are proposing to to distribute Billions on bonuses.

And so on to dinner at the Carlton Club.... now it is not often that I dine in such a distinguished and elegant bastion of the established Conservative Party (a sign of the times you might think?). I am at a dinner organised by my SIB Vice Chair , the great Harriett Baldwin, soon to be MP for Worcs West (and I suspect future Cabinet member, who knows!). Francis Maude MP and Theresa Villiers MP are there. In the Disraeli Room. Great food and wine and an interesting group of other SIB trustees, investment bankers and the like. It is Chatham House as Harriett reminds us as per Bubb will not Blog contents! So I won't!!

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