EXPERT VIEWS -Into the unknown: UK social entrepreneurs brace for Brexit

by Sarah Shearman | @shearmans | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 31 January 2020 00:00 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Anti-Brexit demonstrators waving EU and Union flags are reflected in a puddle in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Image Caption and Rights Information
After years of uncertainty, questions remain over funding cuts from Europe, skills shortages and trading across borders as the United Kingdom quits the bloc at midnight Brussels time

By Sarah Shearman

LONDON, Jan 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From employers who hire disadvantaged youths to cooperative renewable energy schemes, Britain's businesses for good are bracing themselves for Friday's exit from the European Union.

After years of uncertainty, questions remain over funding cuts from Europe, skills shortages and trading across borders as the United Kingdom quits the bloc at midnight Brussels time.

We asked six experts what Brexit will mean for social enterprises - which contribute 60 billion pounds ($78 billion) to the economy - in their part of Britain:

DAVID BRYAN, HUB MANAGER, SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ACADEMY IN SCOTLAND, A TRAINING ORGANISATION:

"We in the Highlands and Islands are very aware that without EU funding, rural areas will be at the back of queue for investment.

"Our road, rail and broadband connectivity are still vastly inferior to the rest of the UK, and the challenges of a rapidly ageing population are intensifying.

"Radical and innovative community-led social enterprise will need to look elsewhere for backing."

COLIN JESS, DIRECTOR, SOCIAL ENTERPRISE NORTHERN IRELAND, A TRADE BODY:

"Despite the removal of the uncertainty regarding Brexit, social enterprises express concern about increasing skill shortages and conflicting messages on agreed trading conditions.

"The lack of clarity around European funding is not sympathetic to the needs of the sector and we would call for an early resolution of this matter to enable organisations to make plans for the future."

LUCY FINDLAY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SOCIAL ENTERPRISE MARK, AN ACCREDITATION BODY

"Social enterprises are focused on using an alternative model of business to deliver services to more marginalised people in places like Plymouth where the market has failed.

"Although the exact implications of Brexit aren't yet clear, I think it is safe to say that it will put financial pressure on local economies in the southwest that have been receiving and are reliant on EU funding."

JANE RYALL, MANAGER IN WALES, UNLTD, A CHARITY SUPPORTING SOCIAL ENTERPRISES:

"Wales does need a replacement for EU funds to support social enterprises and social entrepreneurs, which can help tackle some of our deep social problems.

"We need to create more of an enabling and entrepreneurial environment for social leaders to flourish and thrive."

MARK SESNAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, GLL, A LEISURE INDUSTRY SOCIAL ENTERPRISE:

"The full extent of Brexit's impact on our business is as yet unknown. In London, we employ many Europeans and any change to their employment status could affect staff recruitment.

"Social businesses in the retail sector are reliant on discretionary spending so any tightening of the economy could cause them to struggle."

SALLY HEARD, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CORNWALL SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS: "The impending loss of EU investment in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will have a significant effect and it will reduce our capacity to be able to support social entrepreneurs who tend to work in communities suffering high levels of deprivation.

"We continue to work hard to mitigate these challenges and are optimistic that the government recognises that places like Cornwall need support from the new UK Prosperity Fund if it is to complete with other, more affluent regions in the UK." (Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.