Thursday, 3 May 2012

Boris or Ken: which of London's Leviathans should social enterprise choose?

On the eve of the election, Allison Ogden-Newton takes a look at what the leading candidates in the mayoral race can offer social enterprise
London Mayoral election

Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone: which candidate can do more for social enterprise? Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Update: Posted 10th May from the London Communications Agency :

"The result finally came through at just after midnight with the figures showing a victory by just 3% for Boris over Ken after second preference votes. Green candidate Jenny Jones won third place from Lib Dem Brian Paddick whilst independent Siobhan Benita took a respectable fifth place. Turnout came in at 37.9%, five percent more than the local election results.- I don't know how many of those 37.9% were social entrepreneurs but my guess is more than you would expect.

Today, we go to the polls to decide who should lead us locally. Times are tough, the issues have never affected the electorate as they do now. We have rising unemployment, local authority cuts, reduced services, changes in disability allowances, increased transport costs and yet the pundits are saying turnout will be low. Will that be the case in London, where two of the biggest personalities in UK politics slug it out one more time? Or will the Boris versus Ken show inspire Londoners to hit the polling stations and get their views heard?

In any event, I have been trying to work out what our very own Romulus and Remus think about social enterprise in a campaign so overshadowed by personality that the issues have struggled to get a look in. Social enterprise matters to me, and it matters to London's large and growing ethical business community, so where is it reflected in the candidates' campaigns? Social Enterprise London (SEL) published a manifesto which Boris signed up to saying he "is extremely supportive of the aspirations behind your manifesto and believes that you will find many of your key asks reflected in the 'Growing the London economy' chapter of his manifesto."

On closer inspection, we think this means that Boris is going with our idea of a social enterprise square mile as part of 2012 Legacy, and also the work we do enabling public sector workers to set up as independent service providers.

Ken's campaign has been based on support for the co-operative side of the social enterprise world. Ken attended the launch of the co-operative manifesto and much of his campaign trail language about mutualism and community benefit comes straight from that tradition. When Ken was mayor, he came to SEL conferences and has also committed his support in the past to the role of social enterprises in the delivery of the games, though the London Development Agency, when it still existed, always struggled under both mayors to know where to put social enterprise, so was inclined not to put it anywhere at all, unless you count communications.
Since becoming mayor, Boris has been much more unequivocal in his support for social enterprise but similarly struggled to find the right connection in City Hall to result in material benefit for the community.

So we have Boris, who recently said, "Social enterprise helps people reach their full potential by providing training and employment opportunities," and then Ken, who has said, "I want to make sure London is a success and I have no doubt that increasing the number of businesses that trade with a social purpose will help this vision."

As both of them have had a go at the job over the last 12 years, when social enterprise has made great strides, could either mayor have done more? What exactly can either one of them do for social enterprises in London now? Will they be able to or inclined to restore business support for the largest social enterprise community in the UK? Will they have infrastructure of their own to provide a platform to promote our social enterprise community both at home and abroad? Or will they hope that, in the event of electoral success, somehow this eclectic, multi-cultural, ethical business engine will continue to create opportunity for the poorest Londoners without their assistance? Let's hope not, especially if they want our votes today.

How are you going to vote and why? Share your views in the comments section below.

Allison Ogden-Newton is chief executive of Social Enterprise London.

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