Social enterprise intermediary review: stakeholder views - research report

Results of research to understand the views of social enterprises and key stakeholders in the social enterprise sector regarding the role and nature of a new single social enterprise intermediary body.

Summary and key findings

This report presents the results of research to understand the views of social enterprises and key stakeholders in the social enterprise sector regarding the role and nature of a new single social enterprise intermediary body.

The Scottish Government has committed to setting out a plan to fund a strengthened single intermediary body with responsibility for representing the social enterprise sector across Scotland. This commitment was set out in Scotland's Social Enterprise Action Plan 2021-24 which was published in March 2021, and forms part of the ten-year Social Enterprise Strategy published in December 2016.


The report is based on the findings of a survey of social enterprises, and interviews with key stakeholders. In total, 151 social enterprises responded to the survey. In addition, Scottish Government analysts conducted interviews with representatives of eight key stakeholder organisations, including the two current intermediary bodies. While the findings give a good indication of the views and concerns within the sector, the respondents represent a small proportion of the over 6,000 social enterprises in Scotland. Therefore the results cannot be assumed to represent the views of the entire sector.

Key findings

While a wide range of views and opinions were expressed, a key theme arising from the research was a need for change, both in the quality and type of support provided by the new intermediary, and in the way in which the intermediary is organised and governed. The following sets out the major themes that emerged from the survey and interviews, and which should be taken into consideration in the development of the new intermediary.

Views on types of services and support the new intermediary should provide

Supporting networking; communicating between the social enterprise sector and key statutory bodies; representing the social enterprise sector at a national level; and influencing policy on behalf of the sector were seen by most participants as the key roles of the new intermediary. In each of these areas, at least half of survey respondents felt that current provision was either lacking or in need of improvement.

There was general support among survey participants and some interviewees for the enhanced intermediary to have an increased role in working with social enterprises to promote good practice and social impact; supporting research and evaluation; and providing information and advice.

Views were mixed on whether the intermediary should provide other types of organisational and business support to social enterprises. The majority of survey participants felt it would be useful for the intermediary to provide support such as supporting with generating trading income, applying for grants, and general business/operational support. However, the proportion of social enterprises saying that organisational and business support was not necessary was higher than for all of the other forms of support they were asked about. Most interviewees felt that this should not be the role of the intermediary.

Views on paying an annual membership fee

The majority (85%) of social enterprises responding to the survey said they were willing to pay an annual membership fee. This was the case even among those organisations that are not currently members of either intermediary, with 83% of this group willing to pay a fee.

However, organisations were generally only willing to pay a small fee to an intermediary, with the most common amount organisations were willing to pay per year being up to £50 (34%), followed by £51-£100 (21%), and £101-200 (16%). Fourteen percent of organisations said they would be willing to pay more than £200 per year for membership.

Views on the representativeness of the intermediary

A common theme among both survey participants and interviewees was a call for the intermediary to be more representative of the whole social enterprise sector than is currently the case. Interviewees and survey respondents commonly felt that the diverse range of voices, interests and needs of the sector are not as well represented as they should be, and that social enterprises are often not consulted by the intermediaries on matters affecting them.

Suggestions to improve the representativeness of the new single intermediary included:

  • having a dedicated research and consultation function to enable deeper engagement with and understanding of the sector's needs
  • developing a fully democratic governance structure allowing the intermediary to be accountable to its members
  • building social enterprise networks and making stronger links across all geographical areas
  • focusing on promoting and giving space to the multitude of differing voices and opinions in the sector in national level debates, rather than the intermediary seeking to develop a single "representative voice" for the whole sector.

Views on governance, organisational structure and transparency

A number of interviewees argued for a bottom-up, democratic and transparent governance structure for the intermediary, to ensure that it is accountable to its members. Concerns were raised that a more top-down, centralised governance structure gives grassroots social enterprises too little voice, and risks allowing the intermediary to become dominated by particularly dominant voices and personalities, rather than accurately representing the sector as a whole. Calls were also made to ensure an outcomes-based focus to the intermediary's work.

Views on defining and unifying the social enterprise sector

The research drew attention to the need for the new intermediary to work to unify the divisions within the sector, particularly over the definition of "social enterprise". Many interviewees and survey respondents advocated for a "broad church" approach to membership of the intermediary, incorporating a wide range of legal forms, including some that allow for profit-making. However, others wanted to limit membership to more traditional models of social enterprise. While it is beyond the remit of this research to comment on how social enterprises should be defined, it is clear that the intermediary should seek to build bridges within the sector over this debate.

Views on the relationship between the intermediary and Scottish Government

There were calls from interviewees for a realignment of the relationship between the intermediary and Scottish Government to ensure a strong, independent voice for the sector that is willing to challenge Scottish Government when necessary. Some interviewees felt that because the intermediary will be directly funded by the Scottish Government, it may be hesitant to do this. They advocated for a model that gives the intermediary the confidence to offer challenge and constructive criticism to the government without being concerned about the implications for its continued funding.



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