The regional geography of social enterprise in the UK: A review of recent surveys

Working and briefing paper series: 35

Social enterprise has attracted increasing attention from policy makers, practitioners and academics over recent years. It has often been argued that there is a strong geographical dimension to the growth of social enterprise, yet the lack of reliable national data has prevented any rigorous analysis into how they are distributed.

This paper explores what we can learn from existing national surveys about the geography of social enterprise activity. These datasets are difficult to interpret and compare, partly because of the lack of consensus about how social enterprise should be defined and partly because of different research frames. Furthermore, the statistical validity of the data is questionable - in most cases relatively small sample sizes mean that regional level findings can be taken only as provisional and indicative. However, when considered in concert, some consistent findings emerge. London, for example, has a disproportionately high share of social enterprise activity, as, to a lesser extent, do the South West and North East regions.

It is concluded, however, that the number of social enterprises are likely to vary more significantly at smaller scales, at the level of cities and local districts (e.g. between inner city, suburban and rural areas) rather than regions. The regional pattern in numbers of social enterprises is also likely to mask significant differences in their characteristics both across and within regions.

Research contacts
Heather Buckingham
Steven Pinch
Peter Sunley