9,000 community businesses helping local people thrive

Power to Change’s head of Research and Policy, Ailbhe MacNabola, takes a whistlestop tour through the headline figures in this year’s Community Business Market report. 

It’s that time of year again – before you go off on your break, take a moment to digest the findings of our annual study of the community business market (see the report and summary).

This year we estimate that the community business market comprises some 9,000 businesses in England – our highest estimate to date. We’ve arrived at this point after 5 years of assessing the market, each year getting access to more and better data and benefiting from robust peer reviews and an ever-improving methodology. Whilst it’s doubtless not the end point – we can always improve on our estimation! – it does feel as though we are reaching a point of consensus about the size and shape of the community business market in England.

Other key metrics are: community businesses in England have 33,900 staff and 205,600 volunteers, with an average of 14 paid staff and 32 volunteers per business. Their estimated total income is £890 million with £950 million of assets.

The staffing figure is broadly consistent with previous years, but we have seen changes in the estimates of the numbers of volunteers (in 2018 we estimated 125,200, in 2019 it’s 205,600), in the value of assets held by community businesses (£690m in 2018, this year we estimate £950m) and in the total income of community businesses (we estimated around £1bn in the previous 4 years, this year it’s £890m). The volunteer and assets estimates are larger mainly because this year we are including more village halls in our assessment of the market, thanks to better data provided by a research study conducted in 2018. We’ve included 20% of all village halls in England (there are roughly 10,000). Though we know a lot more now about village halls, we are still somewhat guessing at the true number that operate as community businesses. In 2020 we expect to have a more definitive answer thanks to new research underway, led by ACRE.

The income figure is lower than previously estimated, though this doesn’t indicate shrinkage. Rather, we have more businesses with low incomes in the dataset this year (those village halls again!) which affects the overall estimate of income.

Lastly – whilst it’s difficult to make a judgement about longer-term trends based on the change from one year to the next – this year does show that more businesses are making more of their income from trading. Comparing this year’s survey to last, we see a drop in the proportion of community businesses deriving most of their income from grants – 33% in 2019 compared to 39% in 2018. More than a quarter of surveyed community businesses (27%) received less than expected income from grants this year, and a fifth (21%) received more than expected from trading and contracts.

There is, of course, plenty we still don’t know. We would like to know more about the distribution of community businesses around the country (and will be commissioning some work to explore that in early 2020). We hope to further improve our estimate of village halls that operate as community businesses. And we want to look in more depth into the environmental impact of community businesses. If you have any questions, or comments, on this work do please get in touch: institute@powertochange.org.uk

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