Toby Johnson
21 January 2015

Building consortia – Steps to Success (UK)

Steps to Success was an ESF-supported project to develop social enterprises in Merseyside in North West England. It ran from 2009-2012 with a budget of €2.3 million.

Over the four years, the project supported 636 people who were unemployed, inactive in the labour market or at risk of redundancy, according to a five-step model. 113 of these secured employment and 41 social enterprises were created. 217 existing social enterprises were supported to explore opportunities for diversification and growth.

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The project laid great emphasis on building a sustainable support structure for social enterprises, by creating a consortium (Big Enterprise in Communities – BEiC) whose members provide complementary services and refer clients between them so that their needs are met most appropriately. This consortium went on to gain follow-up funding. A network of mentors was also set up.

Other structural impacts of the project were to form consortia of social enterprises to bid for public sector contracts, and to support social enterprises to take on social franchises, including transnational ones. In order to increase social enterprises’ capacity to bid for larger contract, the project also worked on financial diversification, and has since set up a €2.5m Local Impact Fund.

Lessons of consortium-building in the UK

  • By making use of complementary strengths, the creation of consortia of regional social enterprise support organisations can increase the quality of the support they can provide;
  • Bespoke support for social enterprises is needed because existing provision often lacks the necessary range of expertise and understanding, in particular on legal structures, governance, the target market, consortia, policy and finance;
  • The simplistic numerical outputs according to which ERDF funding is measured (jobs and turnover) are insufficient to evaluate the outcomes of support to social enterprises;
  • ESF funding is more appropriate for ‘wraparound’ support for social enterprises, but regimented national schemes leave little room for bespoke local programmes;
  • Public sector spin-outs offer opportunities to social enterprises, but the payment by results system means that to do this they need working capital. Local impact funds will address this issue.