Is growth always good?
Posted: 28 Sep 2011
We are past the mid-way point of the political conference season and I will have the opportunity to attend at least part of the main three. Over the course of the conferences so far, we have heard a lot about deficit reduction in four years and banking reform in eight years (whether the pain from pace of these changes is the right way round is another matter) and we have heard political parties talk of putting the brakes on the excesses - perceived or otherwise - of other political parties.
Where talk at the tables of power provides more questions than answers is on the topic of growth. Can government create growth itself? Can government create the atmosphere and conditions for growth? How is growth sustained?
Two key questions seem to have been lost in these discussions. Is growth always good? What do we really mean by growth? I believe that social enterprise has the answers to the challenge posed by these two questions.
HCT Group is a growth story. We have had turnover growth averaging more than 20% per year for the last 10 years. In simple economic terms, this is what success looks like – but it’s not good enough for social enterprise. What is so much more important is what this growth means - a huge increase in jobs in some of our most deprived communities; a huge increase in transport provision for community organisations, for elderly and disabled people; and opportunities for training and progression within the workplace - in short, a growth in social value.
I believe that the same principle must hold true for our measures of growth more generally. There is no point at all just going for GDP growth driven by the wealth of those at the top whilst everyone else sees their incomes stagnate or decline. When we are focusing on growth - and the government will need a strong and robust agenda to achieve this - then we need to ensure that growth is measured by indices that work for the many not just the few.
When we focus on growth, we need to focus on employment and training, we need to focus on sustainability, and we need to focus on the medium to long term and not just on short term gain. We need to ensure that we support and invest in companies that will produce growth and social value over the long term. This is vital if we are going to move the country from where we are now to the uplands of genuine prosperity and wellbeing.
Social enterprise needs to be a major part of the growth agenda, but not separate from the overall growth agenda. As a movement, we need to argue for our measures of growth to encompass social value as well as monetary value. This should apply to all companies - not just those whose explicit aim is to create social value. Wealth creation is positive, but unless the benefits of growth are felt in the wider community, we will not achieve a big society, good society or well society.