In an interesting episode of In Business on BBC Radio 4 tonight, Sir Ronald Cohen outlined the idea of a social investment bank. Taking the long term view, he described how idle finance (my term) or unclaimed assets could be diverted to tackling market failure on a large scale through investment in deprived communities.
Having been briefed by the Chancellor, as Head of the Social Investment Task Force, Sir Ronald’s report on idle finance led to Ed Miliband’s statement earlier this winter about further stimulating the social enterprise sector. My money’s on social enterprise becoming a central part of government thinking if Gordon Brown assumes the top job later this year. Perhaps even the establishment of an independent Social Investment Bank within the first budget. The Tories have already made noises in this area too and so there’s likely to be cross-party support for the broader idea, but as James Blitz in the FT points out, there may be dividing lines in the debate over voluntarism around the scale of enterprises, with Labour accused by the Tories of favouring larger over smaller, more localised organisations.
Under Blair, big initiatives have been the way, often fizzling out – such as pathetic ‘Big Conversation’ in 2003. I hope that if Brown is elected by the party, that he takes the long view and gives a greater role to localised, small scale social enterprise.