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Tuesday, 19 October 2021
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Independent review panel: It’s a critical point for social investment

The future of investment in smaller organisations in the charity and social enterprise (CSE) sector is approaching a critical point according to a review of the time-limited social investment charity Access – the foundation for social investment.

According to an independent review panel, the organisation has reached its intended ten-year life halfway point. There is a need for the CSE sector and Government to be actively engaged in the debate about options for the future.

The review of Access, commissioned by the Oversight Trust, which oversees the charity’s activities, found that it has had a positive effect on the charity and social enterprise sector’s infrastructure and investment. This is through a mix of loans and grants known as ‘blended capital’ via intermediaries, small CSEs and developing their enterprise capacity and resilience.

It also found that Access’ activities have strong CSE sector support and are delivered through an effective agile organisation that demonstrates values and alignment with the sector. Achievements include:

  • Over 500 investments through blended finance from the Growth Fund, representing some 20% of the number of social investment market deals done in 2019.
  • More than 600 grants have been awarded for investment readiness from the Reach Fund, with an average size of under £14,000, and reaching smaller CSEs.
  • The pilot of the Enterprise Development Programme demonstrated that Access’ support overwhelmingly accelerated the development of beneficiary organisations’ enterprise activity. 
  • A significant proportion of the investments have been in areas facing the greatest economic disadvantage.
  • Committing £3.6 million in COVID19 emergency grants to help make loans viable, leveraging £10 million in loans to 47 organisations. 

Responding to the review, the Oversight Trust recognises the critical contribution of blended capital in supporting the smaller CSE sector and Access’ role in its provision. 

The report commends the work Access has already begun to define its legacy. However, the Trust says that it would be helpful to understand Access’ views on successors to its entire portfolio of funds and activities. It also suggests that the charity should consider whether there are alternative, more flexible options to achieve the objectives of its various programmes.

Welcoming Access’ commitment to boosting its advocacy role in response to the Review, the Trust believes that there is now an opportunity to establish how Access’s work with smaller CSEs connects to the government’s priorities and levelling-up agenda. Access is also well placed to champion equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector given its partners, networks and programmes.

Oversight Trust Chair Sir Stuart Etherington told Charity Today:

“We recognise how important it is for smaller charity and social enterprise bodies to have access to blended capital. Importantly, the review identifies the value of such blended finance in investing in and supporting small CSEs, the vital role of subsidy in achieving such investments, and the need for this to continue.

“We are pleased to see the positive findings of the review panel on the effect of Access’ activity. We look forward to more discussion of its plans and progress over the coming months.”

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