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National support service launches alongside ‘£1bn university challenge’

11 June 2012
photo of professor Nick Petford

Buying from social enterprise suppliers means the Higher Education sector gets two things for the price of one – the University gets the product or service it requires, but it also helps deliver social value through the social enterprise.

University of Northampton vice-chancellor, professor Nick Petford

Read Nick Petford's blog on Reconstituting the university as a social enterprise.

A new national support service for the UK's fast-growing social enterprise sector is being launched in London tomorrow.

'Inspire2Enterprise' has been piloted in nine counties for the past six months, benefitting more than 1,000 social enterprises in the process. It is now being rolled out nationwide by the University of Northampton and business performance specialists Exemplas.

At the same time, university vice-chancellor Nick Petford will unveil his ‘£1bn university challenge’, encouraging UK universities to spend at least £1bn of the £7bn per annum they currently spend on procuring goods and services from external suppliers, with social enterprises.

The new support service offers those engaged in social enterprise and third sector trading a range of free services including guidance on starting up, advice on management and operations, and support with financial planning, strategy, organisational and market development.

Initial support services are delivered remotely via telephone, email and online by specialist advisors. These free services are supplemented by optional, paid for, face-to-face advice, coaching, mentoring and training, provided by a network of regional delivery partners.

The scheme is geared towards those thinking of setting up a social enterprise, entrepreneurs in the early stages of starting up a social enterprise, established enterprises looking to grow their organisation, third sector organisations looking to trade through social enterprise, and private organisations seeking to create social value through corporate social responsibility.

Professor Simon Denny, the University's Social Enterprise Development Director, said: ‘Figures show that there are over 60,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing around 800,000 people nationwide, and contributing at least £24bn to the economy.

‘Historically social enterprises have struggled with accessing affordable, qualified, practical support particularly during the key phases of enterprise start-up and growth. There has not been, until now, a dedicated service for the sector providing an accesible range of specialist advice, intelligence, research and training.’

Malcolm Williamson, Head of Enterprise Support Services at Exemplas, said: ‘During these challenging economic times, supporting social enterprise is essential for both regional and national prosperity and, critically, for ensuring the significant social impact and related benefits associated with the work undertaken by social enterprises continues.’

The University of Northampton's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Petford, added: ‘In addition to directly supporting our students and staff to learn about, set up and run social enterprises, we are investing in selected social enterprises directly, and supporting the entire sector. Inspire2Enterprise has been a huge investment for us, but it is an investment we are proud to make, as we know that with the right support, social enterprises can do even better.’

The University of Northampton's strategic positioning, launched 18 months ago, is to be the UK's leading university for social enterprise by 2015.

Professor Petford said: ‘The social enterprise sector needs to know it can get high value, long-term contracts, in order to give it the confidence it needs to attract investment and grow. The Higher Education sector is going to be leading the public sector in the way it uses its procurement power to support the social enterprise sector.’

He added: ‘Buying from social enterprise suppliers means the Higher Education sector gets two things for the price of one – the University gets the product or service it requires, but it also helps deliver social value through the social enterprise. For example, one of our social enterprise partners, Goodwill Solutions, supplies office furniture to the University. Every time we buy a desk from Goodwill, the University gets the product it wants and Goodwill is able to continue to employ ex-offenders, therefore contributing to a reduction in re-offending in the local area. For this country to transform its services through social enterprise the sector must develop and the £1 billion university challenge is crucial to that.’

Professor Petford's proposal has already earned the backing of a number of key figures in the Higher Education and social enterprise sectors.

Sir Alan Langlands, CEO, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), said: ‘The £1bn university challenge is an excellent example of the innovative ways in which universities and colleges are contributing to economic growth. The scheme aims to support local and regional economies, and to bring wider social and community benefits, while helping universities and colleges to develop efficient, sustainable procurement practices which deliver their aims and objectives. HEFCE encourages universities and colleges to consider how they might become involved.’

Karel Thomas, executive director, British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG), said: ‘The Higher Education sector is facing multiple challenges to manage costs, and alongside the targets for procurement set out in 'The Diamond report', the £1 billion University Challenge is an initiative that is ambitious and very worthwhile. The Higher Education sector is striving to be sustainable, in the full sense of the word, and that means universities thinking how best to use their procurement power. BUFDG looks forward to joining other sector groups in support of the challenge.’

Peter Holbrook, CEO, Social Enterprise UK, said: ‘All organisations ­– public, private and voluntary – can improve their social impact through getting social enterprises into their supply chains. We are very excited about this initiative from the University of Northampton and are delighted to see them leading the way with real ambition.'