Remploy and social enterprise

As we learned a few days ago,  Remploy is to close 27 factories which employ those with disabilities placing 1421 jobs at risk and prompting GMB to organise  strikes later this month.

In my own village of Parkend in the Forest of Dean,  a Remplay factory ceased operation several years ago and has since been replaced by a car breaking operation.

Many have asked whether social enterprise might offer a solution or indeed noted that Remploy became a social enterprise in 1945 long before the term was coined.

In 2004, we launched as a social enterprise in the UK which had an ambient disabled man as founder.  The year before, he’d been homeless and fasting from a tent for economic rights. it is largely his work which is described below.

Observing the need to stimulate the  economy by means of sustainable local enterprise, it was in a proposal for BBC Village SOS  that we’d pointed to the limited local employment, particularly for those with physical and learning disabilities displaced by the local Remploy closure.

Just a few years earlier we’d called on government and the social enterprise community to support an alternative to traditional capitalism, in a widely distributed business plan which drew attention to the risk of uprisings and pointed out that:

“Traditional capitalism is an insufficient economic model allowing monetary outcomes as the bottom line with little regard to social needs. Bottom line must be taken one step further by at least some companies, past profit, to people. How profits are used is equally as important as creation of profits. Where profits can be brought to bear by willing individuals and companies to social benefit, so much the better. Moreover, this activity must be recognized and supported at government policy level as a badly needed, essential, and entirely legitimate enterprise activity.”

For Village SOS and the Big Lottery, I’d been unable to demonstrate sufficient local stakeholder support and one of the major problems in getting this had been the perception that vulnerable people needed to be protected from exploitation. Though a need was identified, it was impossible to speak to them.

I’d tried getting the support of public funded social enterprise support agencies.  RISE-SW served our region from Exeter and after several attempts to communicate, I finally got an answer from them in 2009 informing me of plans for “development of a region wide business support service for social enterprises” as we offer ourselves and the development of the Social Enterprise Mark “to help customers to choose products and services provided by social enterprises; and lobbying on behalf of our members on the barriers they face, in national policy development”

The Social Enterprise Mark I’d learned, received  £750k of Big Lottery funding without requiring stakeholder support.

Needless to say,  though the Mark reflected many aspects of the business model we’d introduced in 2004, no such help was available for us,  a self-sustaining organisation which contributes in taxation toward provision of public service.

It would not be long before we’d find ourselves undermined further by public funded organisations in our efforts to help children with disabilities abandoned to the state, in Ukraine.

Eight years on,  we now have the political will for reforming capitalism, yet neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband is able to articulate how this might be developed and supported.  Cooperatives UK, now speak of coop capitalism, drawing attention to the same risks we’d identified in 2004 and earlier.

The only way this  enlightened approach to capitalism can happen now, is for it to be re-branded brushing others out of the way, in the same way those in greatest need have been brushed aside by traditional capitalism, which is where we began, 16 years  ago:

As our founder, whose life ended in action last year had put it.

‘The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.’

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