December 12, 2018
Forerunner to social enterprise
No one can doubt that Scottish Government has been whole hearted in its support of social enterprise over the years. A 10-year strategy, a three year fully funded action plan and an eco-system of support infrastructure that many believe is unparalleled anywhere on the planet. All good stuff. But in the interests of keeping our feet firmly on the ground and before the planning begins on the content of the next action plan, perhaps we should reflect on where all this started and what the original drivers were. Gillian Murray provides an excellent potted history.
The force and coherency with which Margaret Thatcher and her inner circle outlined their vision for ‘enterprise culture’, like so many aspects of Thatcherism, have masked the complexity of its origins and the histories of alternative responses. This article provides a history of an alternative vision for enterprise culture by examining the community business movement in Scotland, the largest experiment of its kind in the UK in the 1980s and a forerunner of social enterprise. Working across Scotland, but with a hub of activity in the Strathclyde region, practitioners worked with local people to find ways to develop their neighbourhood economy while improving their environment, creating jobs, and developing services needed in their area. This article outlines the origins of the movement, the shared values of its founding members, and how their training in community development informed the community business model. It analyses how practitioners put their ideas into practice and the reasons behind the fragmentation of the movement in the 1990s. It argues that although at face value the concept of community business may appear to chime with the dominant political rhetoric of Thatcher’s ‘enterprise culture’, the history of the movement provides a signpost to an alternative, if unrealised, vision for Scotland’s recovery from social and economic depression. Where previous historical research has focused on the political consequences of Thatcher’s policies in Scotland, this research connects this discussion to the transformation of Scotland’s civic society in the wake of deindustrialization.