The idea behind a new model of income-assisted CCEs is relatively simple: to assist and encourage new entrants into the social contribution space from the very start.
Universal Basic Income is sometimes discussed with the observation that it can enable people to do things for the community where they would otherwise not have the financial stability to take such a course. I have direct experience of this having set up my own Community Interest Company, LoveFromTheArtist (LFTA).
In this, a venture that we run as volunteers to help support visual artists across Britain, my co-founder and I were able to do it simply because we had both reached an age where certain financial pressures (such as mortgages) were behind us.
I brought this up in a conversation one day with a socially-minded Vale of Clwyd businessman, Gavin Scott, as we were discussing the huge success of CICs and how these types of company can bring real benefit to communities. Vale of Clwyd is an area that, sadly, rates high on the Welsh Government’s Scale of Multiple Deprivation, and it is very much a ‘left behind’ area, with visible deterioration in all sorts of aspects since its more prosperous days as a vibrant holiday area.
Gavin and I considered that many localised issues could perhaps be addressed through the creation of focused CICs that operated purely for the benefit of the local community rather than as profit making commercial entities, and that an ‘assisted enterprise’ approach could help to create new services where the commercial, shareholder-led, corporates might not see the benefit of providing something themselves.
The obvious example is a local bus route that is perhaps loss-making for a larger bus company, but might bring enormous local benefit if run by local people to handle that specific need. Examples of this type of thing exist across Britain and they work.
We asked ourselves how a more general use of this idea, what we called ‘socialisation’, might be encouraged and we felt that funding was one of the main barriers to the creation of localised enterprise of the form we envisaged. This is a two-fold concern because it is daunting enough to raise grant funding for a venture when you don’t need the money for salary or living costs, but if you are younger, entrepreneurial, and keen to develop a localised social enterprise to contribute to your community, then you will often have the added issue of needing some level of pay to get it up and running. If this barrier could be lowered, we reasoned, then maybe younger people might see the creation of such community serving enterprises as a more valid career prospect in starting their working lives.
The adoption of some form of UBI could potentially unlock this constraint, but, in its absence, we wondered if a similar approach might be more practical right now.
From this start-point we outlined a proposition that would attach three years of basic income grant to ‘qualifying’ CIC ventures to enable a viable option for community-minded entrepreneurs, young or old, but with a particular aim of encouraging more young people to consider this as a career route.
We have suggested using the CIC as the base vehicle for this because the qualification and regulation structures for CICs are extant, robust and already proven. What we suggest now is to add an additional qualifying layer where a CIC might also gain status as a Community Contributing Enterprise or CCE for its first three years of operation. This status would entitle the company to receive one* Community Contributor’s Income (CCI) set at the level of a basic starting-salary grade for a Civil Servant’s post (currently in the region of £18,000 per annum). This income level would assist the CIC in achieving its community aims and generally improve access to the world of social contribution for a wider section of the community.
This idea builds on from the solid and highly successful foundation of Community Interest Companies and offers genuine citizen empowerment. It offers practical help to community groups to tackle and address issues that affect people’s lives directly. We also feel that the programme could be substantially augmented by volunteer-based mentoring and practical support from professionals and established business people in the same locale as the new CCE. This would be part of a general encouragement to get more direct community contribution from local businesses.
Following some discussion and consideration by FRSAs, we are encouraged that the idea might have value and we are now seeking to get input on all the questions it inevitably raises.
How might qualification for CCE status be approached? How might a basic income grant for CCEs be funded? Should such a status/grant be available to other enterprise types?
Ian Lacey FRSA runs LFTA, a not-for-profit social enterprise helping to develop sustainable earning opportunities for visual artists.