It is one year since the publication of the independent quadrennial review into Access. We warmly welcomed the review, both because of the positive findings and the open and constructive approach taken by the panel. In our response, we spelt out several actions we would take, both as a direct result of the review and where our strategy already aligned with the points made by the panel.
The actions we set out last year have informed both our strategic and operational planning. One year on I wanted to provide an update on the progress we have made in response to the six issues raised by the panel. We will continue to report on these each year.
ISSUE 1: Sustainability of the flow of blended capital beyond 2022
A significant milestone over the last year was the commitment of a further £20m of dormant asset funds for Access to develop the Enterprise Growth For Communities Programme (EGC). A wide range of social investment intermediaries representing a variety of communities played a role in advocating for this important commitment.
EGC is designed to fill the gap which will re-emerge as the Growth Fund is fully committed, providing small-scale unsecure/2|d loans to the sector. A comprehensive design consultation process took place in the summer, and the programme launched for applications in April. EGC will enable social investors to make loans to the sector until around 2026.
During the year, we have been actively supporting the development of The National Lottery Community Fund’s new strategy and have provided thoughts on the role they can play in enterprise grant making.
We have also worked closely with Big Society Capital and the Impact Investing Institute on a policy paper articulating the relationship between blended finance and other tools of subsidy including guarantees and tax reliefs.
ISSUE 2: Complexity, fragility, and cost in the social investment ecosystem
The Connect Fund has continued to support the social investment ecosystem directly, and a number of social investment organisations have received direct grant support during the year.
The design of EGC more directly addresses the question of intermediary resilience and the ways in which residual grant can help build balance sheet strength, and we hope that the engagement of fund managers in the process and the transparency of decision-making will help address previous concerns about complexity in Access programmes.
We haven’t yet made progress on reporting on the full costs of programme delivery, including the fees paid to our delivery partners. We will take this forward in the coming year.
ISSUE 3: Vulnerabilities of Access running a lean organisation
The Chair and CEO continue to have an open “no-surprises” based relationship and the senior team provides strong leadership, both of which help to mitigate the perception of there being a key person risk.
We appointed Chloe Stables to a new role of Director of Partnerships and Advocacy in September 2021 and Chloe has made great strides in building a broad-based coalition ahead of the public consultation on the future of dormant assets.
An anonymous independent staff survey was conducted in September 2021. The results helped identify some useful areas for development. However, they did not identify that the Access team is stretched too thin or that workload is unsustainable.
ISSUE 4: Equity, diversity & inclusion
In March 2022 we became a signatory to the Diversity Forum Manifesto 2.0. That kicked off a process of developing a comprehensive new organisational-wide equity, diversity and inclusion policy and action which will go to the board in July. The policy brings together a number of existing strands of work as well as identifying several areas for development including Access’s internal practice.
Our work in the Equality and Black and Minoritised Communities strands of our Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) continues as planned with new cohorts of charities and social enterprises being supported, and greater insight being gathered on the underlying business models in each sector.
Partners in the Flexible Finance for the Recovery Programme continue to make progress in launching their funds and reaching communities which have not benefitted from social investment previously. This will significantly accelerate over the year ahead.
ISSUE 5: Advocacy – to build the case to Government and beyond for the importance of blended finance for CSEs and their social role across England.
We have made significant progress in this area over the last year. As outlined above Chloe Stables was appointed Director of Partnerships and Advocacy in September 2021 and is coordinating a major campaign with peers, partners and stakeholders advocating for the role of the social economy and in particular influencing the public consultation on the future of dormant assets. The campaign, the Community Enterprise Growth Plan, draws on data from Access’s programmes and the work of many other partners across the sector. It focuses on the role that the social economy can play in boosting growth and creating quality jobs in so-called ‘left-behind’ communities.
The evidence base for the effectiveness of blended finance has grown over the year. Two notable reports are the Ecorys Evaluation of the Growth Fund and the New Philanthropy Capital review of blended finance.
ISSUE 6: Legacy
The work to define Access’s legacy has significantly informed the new strategic plan which the board adopted in the Spring of 2022. This plan focuses to a much greater extent on the role of Access in a broader ecosystem rather than simply the impact of our programmes, and the measures of success include the securing of long-term sources of subsidy for blended finance.
Our view is that the most likely source of this is dormant assets and that is why we are working with a wide range of partners, as indicated above, on the Community Enterprise Growth Plan campaign to influence the outcome of the public consultation.
In addition to the conclusions in the quadrennial review, both the Adebowale Commission on social investment and the NPC review of blended finance have called for Access to continue. The Access board continue to review Access’s own status. Our current position remains that securing the resources necessary to fund blended finance in the long term is the priority.
Work continues across our delivery partnerships to build the legacy of specific programmes and in particular to embed knowledge of enterprise models developed through the Enterprise Development Programme.
Overall, we feel we have made good progress in responding to the themes defined by the review panel. Much now depends on the outcome of the Government’s public consultation on dormant assets and this will be a major focus of our work for the remainder of 2022.