Prolonged austerity and Brexit uncertainty continues to hit business confidence, but one sector is bucking the trend

As poor economic conditions deepen and uncertainty in the market due to Brexit continues to gnaw away at business confidence levels, there’s one sector that is bucking the trend this year.  New research shows that almost two thirds (63%) of community businesses reported feeling confident about their financial prospects for the year ahead; a rise of 16% on the previous year.  This contrasts dramatically with the most recent Federation of Small Businesses figures, which showed a drop in confidence in that sector from 20.0 to 1.1 on their index measurement. (Quarters 1-3 2017).

Commissioned by Power to Change, the independent trust supporting community businesses in England, and carried out for the first time by CFE Research, the new report The Community Business Market 2017 estimates that there are around 6,600 community businesses in England with a combined market income of £1.2 billion and assets totalling £0.7 billion.

Community businesses are organisations rooted in a local area, run by and answerable to members of the community, and which make a trading profit to re-invest in doing more social good. Community-led pubs, libraries, housing, shops, farms, transport, and renewable energy are just some examples.

2017 community business market figures at a glance

  • 6,600 community businesses – this is likely to be an under-report as there is too little evidence to estimate the number of organisations in some sectors[1]
  • £1.2 billion total market income
  • £0.7 billion assets
  • 35,500 paid staff
  • 119,500 volunteers – this could be much higher in reality due to lack of reliable data
  • 63% confident about financial prospects for year ahead – comparable data last year was just 47%

Commenting on the report’s findings Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change, said: “Operating often in the most deprived areas of the country, the rise in community businesses’ confidence about their financial prospects for the year ahead points to the resilient nature of this sector. Local people who take on local services, buildings and beloved assets for the benefit of their community often thrive where purely private businesses would struggle or dare to venture.”

There were clear expectations of growth as the majority of community businesses surveyed expect to increase volunteer numbers and income from trading, contracts and grants and over a fifth plan to access crowdfunding, having not done so previously. Almost half also expect to hire more paid staff.

Vidhya Alakeson continues: “What comes out strongly is that the majority of community businesses foresee continued steady growth, despite difficult economic times.  Indeed, austerity presents opportunities for community businesses to step into the gap left by the public sector. A quarter of the community businesses that were surveyed had not taken on new assets or embarked on new trading activities but plan to do so in the coming year. Interviewees were confident in growing their business, citing diversification and economic efficiency as opportunities for growth.”

Speaking to the figures, John Higton from CFE Research concurs: “The survey findings show a vibrant and confident market that is delivering vital services to the communities they serve. The general positivity of the community business sector is a welcome antidote to the prevailing mood of the country.”

Power to Change is supporting many of these community businesses. One of them, Homebaked, a community bakery in Anfield, says it can measure its market growth in the number of pies they produce and sell which has risen from 500 a week in 2015 to 2,000 a week now, thanks to a grant from Power to Change. Another grant from the trust has enabled them to refurbish the flat above the bakery for letting to local young people at affordable rents.  This award-winning business is now completely self-sustainable and having a significant impact in the regeneration of the local area.

[1] Whilst the number of community businesses in 2017 is lower than the 2016 estimate, a direct comparison of market number figures between years is not possible as the research method adopted this year triangulates data collected from community businesses directly through a survey and longer interviews with a number of secondary data sources. This is a more robust way to provide a market estimate compared to past studies but does not offer a like for like comparison.

ENDS

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1.  Power to Change is an independent trust, whose funding is used to strengthen community businesses across England. At a time when many parts of the UK face cuts, neglect and social problems, we are helping local people come together to take control, and make sure their local areas survive and stay vibrant. http://www.powertochange.org.uk/
  2.  To assess market size in 2017, estimates from previous years (2015 and 2016) are reproduced where possible. However, there are two main differences which have a major impact on this year’s estimates. First, the 2017 estimate is based, where possible, on data that can be verified by an existing source. In many cases, this may represent an underestimate depending on the secondary data sources used, especially where sector estimates are derived from primary research data. For the sake of transparency, we document all assumptions that have been made and data sources used to derive the estimates of the market size. Second, new data has become available in some sectors, some of which improves estimates. Our assessment is also based on a combined online and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) survey of 259 community businesses, interviews with 43 individuals from across the sector and a desk-based review of existing evidence, secondary databases and literature.
  3. Follow Power to Change on Twitter at @peoplesbiz and visit www.powertochange.org.uk for the latest community business news.