Big Society was and still is a thorny ideology. The concept most recently surfaced as the Big Society Policy, strongly advocated for by David Cameron as his ‘big idea’ in 2010, who put a range of Cabinet Office and other government resources together to form, amongst other things, Big Society Capital bank, the Power to Change Trust, the Localism Act (2011) powers, plus tax policy measures including Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) – all of these measures intended to lead to outcomes like
- Giving communities more powers
- Encouraging people to take an active role in their communities
- Transferring power from central to local government
- Supporting co ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises
- Publishing government data.
These are commendable outcomes, but commentary at the time of the launch put this vision against the backdrop of severe austerity cuts (that we are still facing and experiencing the consequences of today), leading to criticism from some quarters that this work was and potentially still is a government money saving exercise.
One of the measures that Big Society put in place was Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) which allows individuals to claim a 30% tax relief against investments they put into a social enterprise. Perhaps surprisingly, given its roots in a former political administration, SITR received an upgrade recently – previously an enterprise could only issue around £300,000 of SITR eligible investment but following the passing of the 2017 Finance Bill recently, this limit has been increased to £1,500,000. This stands to benefit plenty of social enterprises as they might expect this higher level to increase their investment-potential through increasing support from individual investors. Our Power is an example of a co-operative trying to take advantage of this, and would be one of the first enterprises to benefit from this new rule if it receives notice that it and its investors are eligible for the extended threshold.