Press release

Launch of Big Society Capital – the world’s first ever social investment market builder

Big Society Capital - a groundbreaking £600 million institution - will be launched by the Prime Minister today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

CAB 021-12

Big Society Capital - a groundbreaking £600 million institution - will be launched by the Prime Minister today. Its mission is to grow a new market - social investment - and so make it easier for charities, social enterprises and community groups to access affordable finance. In turn, this will help them innovate, expand their services and develop better solutions to social problems.
The unveiling of Big Society Capital is an important milestone in the government’s drive to grow the economy and build a bigger, stronger society.  This is about applying business principles to tackle social problems on a sustainable basis - the institution’s innovative funding structure carries no cost to the taxpayer and represents a new partnership between banks, government and the social sector.

Big Society Capital will be capitalised with a total of £600 million. An estimated £400 million of this will come from unclaimed cash left dormant in bank accounts for over 15 years and £200 million will come from the UK’s four largest high street banks Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS.

Big Society Capital will grow the social investment market which blends financial return with positive social impact. It will do this through the development of socially orientated investment organisations that support charities and social enterprises that have the ability to repay an investment through the income they generate. This will help those charities and social enterprises to grow and use their expertise to do more good in communities, whether it is supporting troubled families, providing job and training opportunities for young people or working with the homeless.

The Prime Minister said:

For years, the City has been associated with providing capital to help businesses to expand. Today, this is about supplying capital to help society expand. Just as finance from the City has been essential to help businesses grow and take on the world, so finance from the City is going to be essential to helping tackle our deepest social problems.

Big Society Capital is going to encourage charities and social enterprises to prove their business models - and then replicate them. Once they’ve proved that success in one area they’ll be able - just as a business can - to seek investment for expansion into the wider region and into the country.

This is a self-sustaining, independent market that’s going to help build the Big Society.

Sir Ronald Cohen, Chair of Big Society Capital, said:

What we’ve done for business entrepreneurs we must now do for social entrepreneurs. We must give them the resources to innovate in the way we resolve social issues. Big Society Capital aims to transform the flow of capital into the social sector and to boost significantly its ability to improve people’s lives.

Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd said:

This is a time when we need to be doing more to back our social entrepreneurs. For many years, charities and social enterprises have been telling government how hard it is to access long term capital. We have listened and within two years have delivered a new institution that will make it easier.

The social investment market is embryonic but it is real and we intend to grow it. As a result, savers in this country will have more opportunities to invest for good and back charities, social enterprises and community groups who want to make a positive difference.

John Bird, Founder and Editor in Chief, Big Issue, said:

The social enterprise world has been awaiting eagerly the launch of Big Society Capital as it heralds a new phase for social entrepreneurs in this country. Big Society Capital will provide £600m more social investment, encouraging everyone to start making money and do some social good.

Tim Smit KBE, Chief Executive, Development, Eden Project, said:

Big Society Capital will make it easier for social entrepreneurs to secure the finance that they need so that they can build and grow the next Eden Project, the next Fifteen or the next Cafe Direct and is a hugely needed encouragement to the sector and an acknowledgement that Social Enterprise in general and Social Entrepreneurs in particular can bring growth in areas where “business as usual” has struggled. It also throws down the gauntlet to all of us in the sector by saying “we hear you…now prove your argument”. This is an exciting challenge and the promoters of Big Society Capital should be applauded for their far sightedness and willingness to make an informed commitment to a mixed economy that will encourage and stimulate growth in areas previously starved of resources and a champion. 

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point, said:

This is a very useful start in creating access to affordable finance for social enterprises like Turning Point. Big Society Capital should enable both social enterprises and charities to work towards achieving their potential and deliver more for their communities.

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, said:

The launch of Big Society Capital is very welcome news to the social enterprise sector. Access to appropriate finance remains the biggest barrier for social enterprises keen to grow and have a greater impact. The UK social investment market is exciting and set to attract capital to the sector at a time when other sources of finance are shrinking.  Now we need to ensure that the UK’s most-promising social enterprises working to address the country’s social issues are ready to take investment, and that the process is made easy for potential investors seeking a social and financial return.

Muhammed Yunus of Grammen Bank said:

I welcome the launch of this innovative social investment institution which will use £600 million to invest in organisations that help grow a culture of social investment. If every nation established an organisation like Big Society Capital then we would see sprouting of endless varieties of social businesses using technology and creativity to solve our social and economic problems around UK and rest of the world. I wish the Fund a grand success.

Big Society Capital is an organisation run independently from the Government with decisions around investments being made by an impartial investment committee. It will play a critical role in speeding up the growth of the social investment market. The majority of the money it makes will be reinvested back into the social investment market so it can be constantly reused for the good of society.

It will be chaired by Sir Ronald Cohen, the pioneer of venture capital in the UK who has been using his skills and expertise to champion social investment over the last 12 years. Nick O’Donohoe, former Global Head of Research at JP Morgan, is Big Society Capital’s Chief Executive.

Through the open public services agenda Government will be creating more space for social enterprises and charities to help deliver better public services. Through localism Government is giving community groups more opportunities to take on projects in their local communities such as running their local library, playgroup or shop.  Big Society Capital will support both agendas by growing the market in social investment thereby making it easier for people to access finance to make their plans a reality.

Crucially, instead of the Government simply making individual grants which would deplete the £600 million fund over time, Big Society Capital will invest money in organisations that provide affordable finance to social projects on a repayment basis. This means that rather than eventually running out, the money will constantly be reinvested in new projects and in turn generate more cash. All the time this is happening money will be invested in projects that benefit communities across the UK.

Alongside Big Society Capital the Government is also announcing a range of groundbreaking initiatives to help grow the social investment market in the UK. Later this month Government will launch a £10 million Investment and Contract Readiness Fund which will provide grants and support to ambitious charities and social enterprises that want to grow and deliver more services for communities but just need that extra help before they are ready to take on a loan or bid for a contract to run public services. The Government is launching a programme called Inspiring Impact, to accelerate social impact measurement, co-ordinated by New Philanthropy Capital, to enable frontline charities and social enterprises to deliver better outcomes for society. We will also be conducting a review into the financial barriers to social enterprise to substantially increase investment into frontline organisations.
Research last year estimated that about £165 million of social investments were made in 2010. The Government’s aspiration is to grow the social investment market so that its size is measured in billions rather than millions. 

Notes to Editors

1. More information on Big Society Capital can be found here:

2. Investments of £7 million from dormant bank accounts have already been committed in-principle in the interim period before the launch of Big Society Capital and are already bringing real changes to people’s lives. Projects include:

  • Enabling the long-term unemployed set up their own businesses;
  • Two projects supporting for vulnerable young people to get into employment;
  • Two community energy projects;
    Provision of community-owned affordable housing in deprived areas; and the creation of the first ever social stock exchange.

3. Examples of social enterprises:

Blue Sky

Blue Sky Development & Regeneration is a social enterprise established by the charity Groundwork Thames Valley. Blue Sky’s mission is to help break the cycle of re-offending and achieve long-term benefits for society. It was set up to give paid work to people coming out of prison, to enable them to move successfully into long-term employment.
Over the 5 years since it was set up, Blue Sky has employed nearly 500 ex-offenders - that’s greater than the entire inmate population of some of Britain’s prisons. Of these, less than 15% have re-offended, a quarter of the national average.
Blue Sky only employs ex-offenders in the grounds maintenance and recycling sectors. Ex-offenders work in teams of 4 - 6, each team supervisor is also an ex-offender and act as a mentor and leads by example. Blue Sky provides a skilled workforce in an employment sector where demand is high. 

HCT Group

HCT Group is a social enterprise in the transport industry, safely providing over 12 million passenger bus trips every year. It delivers a range of transport services - from London red buses to social services transport, from school transport to Park and Ride, from community transport to education and training. It reinvests the profits from its commercial work into further transport services or projects in the communities it serves.

Updates to this page

Published 4 April 2012