The Community Interest Company: celebrating a ten year anniversary

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise

Social enterprises in the UK are increasingly choosing to incorporate as Community Interest Companies or ‘CIC’. Over the past ten years, since its statutory inception in 2005, the CIC format has aided a total 11,200 social businesses fulfil their social and environmental missions. According to Sara Burgess, Regulator for Community Interest Companies, the last month alone has seen the highest number of new CIC registrations in the format’s ten year history.

These encouraging figures were at the centre of a lively debate during the Ten Years Community Interest Company: Anniversary Celebration, organised by the University of Bristol Law School’s Centre for Law and Enterprise on 16 July 2015. The full-day event, with plenary, workshop and question time sessions, brought to the Law School a vibrant audience of social entrepreneurs, local councillors, civil servants, national and international policy-makers, academics and practitioners, ready to engage in some constructive stock taking, reflection and debate. It also offered social enterprises and community organisations from around Bristol and from further afield the opportunity to showcase their work to others in the sector and more widely.

Amongst the speakers were Sara Burgess who also co-hosted the event; George Ferguson the Mayor of Bristol; Professor Wendy Larner, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law; Karl Belizaire, Director of the Bristol-based influential social enterprise Social Enterprise Works CIC; David Hunter from leading social enterprise law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP; and Paula Woodman, senior advisor on social enterprise at the British Council.

With the experience and expertise in the room palpable, the plenary and workshop discussions brought out some of the great success stories of Community Interest Companies. The sheer breadth of experiences, successes as well as struggles of individual social businesses that became apparent, brought the debate around the opportunities that the CIC format offers, very much to life. At the same time, these sessions focused minds on some of the most significant continuing challenges that many CICs, and social enterprises more widely, have faced over the past ten years. These included issues around (1) investment and finance, (2) legal structure and governance, (3) accounting for social value and social impact, and (4) tackling the complexities of public service commissioning and access to public procurement opportunities. And the discussion certainly acknowledged that while the focus here lay on the UK where the CIC format operates, the issues faced by social business in other places around the world were by no means dissimilar.

The sustainability and growth of social enterprises, and the successful accomplishment of their social mission, widely depends on the support they receive in tackling these key issues. It was a particular strength of this event (and precisely its aim) that the insight and experience of those in attendance meant eventually we could distil and formulate the concrete questions that should shape an agenda to support social enterprise and the CIC format going forward. The Law School’s Centre for Law and Enterprise is dedicated to taking these forward, with a particular focus on legal issues around incorporation, public procurement and corporate governance of social enterprises. The Centre is dedicated to producing research and providing support in close collaboration with social enterprises and their stakeholders.

This event was organised by the Centre for Law and Enterprise, University of Bristol Law School, in collaboration with Policy Bristol, University of Bristol; Sara Burgess, Regulator of Community Interest Companies; Social Enterprise Works CIC; Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP; and June Burrough, Social Entrepreneur and Founder Director of the Pierian Centre.

Please contact Nina Boeger (nina.boeger@bristol.ac.uk), Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise, for further information.

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