Author of Social Value Act to launch book

Hoxton Apprentice
Monday 17th September

Chris White MP, author of the newly drafted Social Value Act, will be speaking at a special event to launch a new book which looks at how social enterprise can play a vital part in addressing the problem of worklessness.

How to Make a Million Jobs is a timely and provocative book written by social entrepreneur Colin Crooks, and the book will be officially launched at the event in the Hoxton Apprentice in Shoreditch on 17th September.

More details of how to attend coming soon.

Colin Crooks at Green Party Conference, Bristol, 9th September

Green Party Conference 2012
Sunday 9th September 2012

Colin Crooks has been confirmed as one of the speakers at a special fringe session on 9th September as part of the 2012 Green Party Conference. The session will be looking at the issue of persistent unemployment, and Colin will line up alongside Molly Scott-Cato (Green Party Economics Spokesperson) and George Barda (representing Occupy LSX).

Colin is author of How to Make a Million Jobs and founder and CEO of Tree Shepherd, a social enterprise which aims to tackle the issue of worklessness in some of the country’s most deprived communities.

Any conference delegates who would like to get in touch beforehand, please drop me a line at, and hope to see you on 9th September!

Social Enterprise and the unemployment crisis

Social Enterprise and the unemployment crisis

Published on the Guardian Social Enterprise Network

25. July 2012

I recently spoke to an audience at the RSA, aiming to debunk the rather comfortable myths about unemployment that many have accepted. Seemingly unemployment is not too serious, it’s cyclical and there are jobs out there for those that have the gumption to go and get them. I’m afraid those assumptions are plain wrong.

The numbers are far from manageable because official unemployment figures – 2.61 million out of work – hide the fact there are actually 6.5 million people who want to work in this country (ONS “economically inactive but want to work” data, May 2012

They’re not cyclical either. Even in 2005 at the height of our booming economy there were 4 million people unable to get work who wanted it.

And as for “there’s work out there if you want it”, official vacancies hover around half a million.  This means even without the people who want to change jobs there are 13 unemployed people for every one vacancy.

The numbers alone don’t tell the full story because behind them is a terrifying skills gap. As employers ask for increasingly higher skill levels and employment becomes more technical, we create a widening gap for the millions who don’t have even the basic skills. Around 10 million working age people don’t have a Level 2 qualification, which means they can only go for the most basic of jobs.

But those low and semi-skilled jobs are fast disappearing. Our modern business models look to remove labour at every turn or ships jobs abroad. Many businesses are also keen to set up on green fields well away from dense urban populations. This compounds the problem for those communities in deprived inner cities where a disproportionate number of the unemployed live. For the huge number of people who want to work but have care commitments to fulfil, distance to work is a critical factor. They simply cannot afford the extra time away from their dependents travelling to and from work.

These apparently inevitable economic processes create ever more desperate ghettoes of unemployment of people with low skills or complex commitments. So how do we reverse the trend and create low and semi-skilled local jobs? Enter social enterprise.

Social enterprises are perverse. They deliberately choose to locate in challenging areas and are three times more likely to be based in an area of multiple disadvantage and high unemployment than their private sector equivalent (SEUK 2011).  And relative to a similar sized private firm they employ more people.

So we have a desperate and growing need for jobs in deprived areas but the majority of business owners are not inclined to invest. There must then be a compelling case for supporting those people who do want to invest their time and sweat in such areas. Social entrepreneurs are the committed and determined business pioneers who are prepared to make the sacrifices needed to buck the trend. If government backed those individuals who take up the challenge because they are motivated by more than money, they would get a massive social dividend on their investment:  higher employment, increased social harmony, increased local income, reduced benefit dependency.

For government and local authorities investing in social enterprise should make sound policy, but what about the business community?

There is an equally compelling economic argument for businesses to invest in creating work in our most deprived areas. Just say they took an active part in creating a million new jobs. At the median wage that would be £26billion added to GDP. This is money that would typically be spent on products supplied by our largest firms. However, the benefits are far more strategic than a boost to local markets.

As the baby boomers start to retire there is going to be a massive labour shortage in this country and companies are going to be competing intensively across the skills matrix for people to work for them. Helping to create additional employment now for people who will otherwise languish at home is a very good investment in a future where there will be less working age people.

And again its not just numbers; in my experience unemployed people often hide remarkable skills and insights, which until they start to work are completely smothered. Seeing that potential gradually being released as a person builds in confidence has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

As Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter says in his seminal paper “Creating Shared Value”, investing in local supply chains where businesses can form relationships and work together on problems can be a most productive way of creating innovation. If that local supply chain included social enterprises who were harnessing the ideas and creativity of a let-down generation we could produce some very interesting results.

There is a clear case for businesses to look over their shoulder at the depressed neighbourhoods on their doorstep and to engage with social enterprise to create work. They’d increase their markets, widen the pool of labour and discover some extraordinary insights.

Colin Crooks, serial social entrepreneur and Director of Tree Shepherd

Pre order my new book


What’s in it for me?

What’s in it for me?

written by Colin Crooks

Published by Clearly So  4th July 2012

Serial social entrepreneur Colin Crooks highlights the importance of job creation and the need for a more inclusive, socially minded approach to business.

Recently I spoke about unemployment on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Four Thought’ programme. My speech was far reaching – I said the situation was much worse than is ever reported, there are actually around 6.5 million people wanting to work but unable to do so. An incredible proportion of our working age population is very poorly skilled and I bemoaned the failure of policy to acknowledge the power of parental role models. In creating work for adults we would be creating role models for children and teenagers, which would probably make many of them more employable. And finally I pointed out that our top firms have squirrelled away a mighty £754 billion in cash they won’t spend.

The broadcast was recorded at the RSA in London in front of a live audience of about 50 members of the society. There was time for a Q&A session after the speech and the one that struck me most was from a young lady who asked, “What’s in it for business?”

I’ve been round the block enough times to know this is a key question when actually talking to business nowadays. I was nevertheless saddened to find that the insidious culture of ‘What’s in it for me?’ has seemingly percolated through to every part of our society.  It’s now simply not enough to demonstrate that something is a public good anymore, you have to describe why people should do anything at all to advance that good in terms of how they will directly benefit.

Of course, I think that there is a superb and compelling ‘business case’ for my approach but I think it bodes badly for our society if that is the first question that is asked rather than “How can I help?” After all, business, finance and economics are human constructs. They are not found in nature. They were designed by humans to improve the human condition and help to provide more goods for humanity and make life easier.  However they seem to have evolved in a way that in many cases is antipathetical to the human experience.

We see it every day in the environment where our business model dictates the constant destruction of our natural resources without, it seems, any heed of how future generations might have enough to live with. We see it also in employment. Business seems to be designed to remove human input by as much as possible, to eliminate ‘human error’ and indeed to reduce the cost of human resources. And if we can’t reduce that human input we transfer the jobs abroad to a country where labour is cheaper. But as humans we value work incredibly highly, it is a source of pride, it creates dignity and it gives us a status in society, which we value enormously. Without work humans become depressed, unhealthy and apathetic.

So for me it’s self-evident that we should endeavour to create jobs that people can do at all opportunities. A country where most people could find work would be a fairer, happier and more decent country to live in. This would have benefits for all of us, not least our corporate citizens who would have a better educated and engaged workforce to recruit from and a larger market for their goods. So instead of asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ we should start asking “What’s in it for us?”

I’m crowd funding my new book.  Can you help me?  I want it to be printed in time for the party conference season. For more information and to make a donation visit’s.html



Let-down generation wants to work

The let–down generation

written by Colin Crooks 

published by New Start magazine 4th July 2012

Serial social entrepreneur Colin Crooks highlights why social entrepreneurs are the key to turning round our most deprived areas and helping the let-down generation.

In my recent BBC Radio 4 Four Thought lecture I spoke about the 6.5 million people who actually want to work in the UK but cannot find a job.  I spoke too, about the fact that there are 10 million people who don’t have a single level 2 qualification.  Most of these people went through schooling between the 70’s and the 90’s.  I call them the let-down generation.  However, what I didn’t have time to say is that a highly disproportionate number of these people live in our most deprived areas.   This will come as no surprise to readers of New Start but nevertheless I think the connection between these two factors is considerably under-estimated.   I have set up and run a number of social enterprises in some very deprived areas of the country and the lack of skills locally has in all cases been a severely limiting factor.  As a matter of course when interviewing for van driver jobs I give candidates an A-Z in order to check they can read (I have learnt the hard way – I was assaulted by a guy who couldn’t read) and I would make sure a person using a weigh scales could differentiate between lbs and kgs.  And this extends beyond manual workers.  When recruiting for supervisor grades I’ve needed to check that candidates had basic numeracy, could create simple spread sheets and could understand essential management data.   The absence of such skills is a serious impediment to any business or organisation.  It also requires the senior managers to go beyond their normal role as employer and act almost as teacher and parent too.

Ironically, the stress that such challenges often brought (drivers getting lost because they couldn’t read a map, staff paying out the wrong amount because they’d used the wrong weight scale) was also accompanied by an enormous sense of satisfaction.  For where the average business manager seems to lack the patience for such difficulties I’ve found helping these people and watching them change and grow in front of me to be amongst the most rewarding experience of my life.

That’s why I am proposing in my upcoming book that social enterprise should lead in the regeneration of our most deprived locations.  Because only people with empathy for their staff and the patience to help them and train them can really break the cycle of low skills, no jobs, no hope  that so many communities find themselves in.  Llocal social entrepreneurs know what’s needed in their area and they can create the jobs we need.   If we can give them the support they need to get started and in turn to support and train their employees, we could rebuild the confidence of the let-down generation. And that confidence will pass down to their children and then finally we might see the skills and income gulf that characterises this country starting to close.

Can you help? I’m Using crowd funding to get my book ‘One Million Jobs’ printed in time for the party conference season.  Any support you can give will be gratefully received visit’s.html

Help others help themselves

Raising money for Fine Cell Work

“Whatever aches I suffer I will be acutely aware that I’m free and in the fresh air”

by Colin Crooks

On Thursday afternoon I start my annual cycling odyssey.  Although I’m not climbing as much as last years madness I will be travelling a very long way!  This year I plan to ride with a marvellous group of around 25 people more than 350 miles from the New Forest across to the Isle of Wight and round to Canterbury via Brighton.  From Canterbury I will ride back into London.  I’m looking forward to it although my training has been hampered by the terrible weather.  This year I’m riding for two great causes.  One is a UK charity that helps prisoners find new skills and to be creative.  Called Fine Cell Work they have a very creative and imaginative, sterotype-breaking approach to prisoners welfare and equipping them with skills for when they are released.   Prisoners in the UK spend far too long cooped up in their cell.  They are cleary very limited in what they can do.  Fine Cell Work trains male prisoners in embroidery and needlework.  Their products are extremely good quality and are sold and exhibited across the UK.    This is a really creative social enterprise breaking barriers and doing business.  Whatever aches I suffer I will be acutely aware that I’m free and in the fresh air.  My second charity this year is Afghan Aid which has been working in Afghani communities for more than 3 decades.  They really know the country and its people and they enable them to help themselves in all sorts of ways.   Both these charities appeal to the core of my approach to social enterprise:  they help others help themselves……….

I’d really value your support. Please  donate via one of these links


A people based policy for places without people?

A people based policy for places without people?

I sometimes wonder whether the academics and researchers on whom we put so much trust have sufficient practical experience to offer solutions to the problems they analyse.  On so many occasions, the solutions they promote seem disconnected from the issue that they are concerned with.

The other day I went to a conference at The Work Foundation entitled Economic development: Innovating for local growth?”  It was the usual sort of thing; four speakers reviewing where we are and what they thought could be done about it.  The final speaker, Professor Henry Overman from the LSE pointed out that “area disparities are highly persistent” and continued with some bold assertions about the effectiveness of government intervention in deprived areas over the last 13+ years.  We have to acknowledge, he went on to say, “…that 13 years of intervention effectively did nothing to address spatial differences”.  He felt that the main reason that these interventions had been so ineffective was that they had focused on the area effects rather than the people.  “All interventions should be on people not place,” he asserted.

I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement.  All of my limited research has demonstrated that very few areas of high unemployment have seen significant improvements in employment rates.  This is despite millions being spent on them through a raft of government schemes going back in some cases to the mid 1930s!

Here I thought was the platform that Professor Overman would use to call for a reform of public policy.  To start investing, not in place, but in people.  Optimistically I asked, what he thought we should do to help the millions of adults in this country that have no qualifications.  By my calculations, there are between 8 and 10 million people in that situation i.e. one third of our workforce.

But instead of addressing this most serious of issues he preferred to push the problem out to future generations, as do so many other commentators in this field.  He said we should, “invest in early year’s education.”  How, I asked, does that help the people who have now left school with no qualifications and who need a job?  “It doesn’t” he replied “and there’s nothing that can be done for them.”  He went on to say that government investment should focus on the places where the market demands high skilled jobs and that many second tier towns would need to “dwindle in size”

Quite apart from the humanitarian issues that “letting places fail” raises, I was struck by how illogical this argument was.  Firstly, if as Professor Overman says, “who you are is much more important than where you are” would you not develop a people centred programme?  By this I mean a policy of investing in adult skills and employment designed around who the people are and not what you would like them to be.  If several million people have very low skills I think you need to create jobs and skills training that is appropriate to those people.  To talk about encouraging high skills and attracting advanced technical jobs flies in the face of reality for so much of our inner city population.  Investment in adults is especially important when one considers that almost all the research shows environmental factors have by far the largest impact on a child’s likely educational attainment.  It is estimated that schools themselves are responsible for less than 10% of a child’s achievement.  Surely, if a child’s home life is the major determinant of its likely academic success then a major investment in adult skills and work is the best way of improving the educational achievements of today’s children?

Secondly, a policy of investing only in those places that have a chance of high skilled success sounds to me very much like a place policy not a people policy.  It also seems to be a policy that will backfire if taken to its logical conclusion.  If some towns should dwindle then where will those people go?  They will be no more able to get high skilled jobs in the boom towns and they will continue to be a burden on the state – only now they will be rootless and dejected.  One can only speculate on the social consequences of such a policy.

The uncomfortable truth for academics and for government is that we have to help the millions of unskilled, workless adults living in our country now.  That means dealing with real people in real places.  It is absurd to offer a people based policy for places without people.

Should CSR lite have read CSR “lost”?

By Colin Crooks

Last year I published a blog entitled “Companies are going CSR lite” which many of you have been very complimentary about.  However, it seems that I was wrong.  I had not stated the half of the problem.  For what I had identified then was that firms were paying lip service to community issues by sponsoring events or organising fundraisers charity.  However, they were not really committing themselves to supporting the community in a deep and meaningful way.  I was talking then of an unwillingness to get involved in buying services from social enterprise or charities.  I believed then and I still believe that actually trading with social enterprises could achieve two things at once – a company would get a service that it needs in any case and at the same time assist a charity to help people in difficulty.  In this way, charities and social enterprises could gain access to the billions of pounds that companies spend every year.  If we could do that, we would dwarf the amounts that companies give in charity or sponsorship deals.

There are hundreds of social enterprises across the UKthat provide services to business whilst creating jobs for people on the margins of society.  But as the recession bit companies started to look to save money and social enterprises started to be squeezed out.  I felt then that they were simply using the recession as an excuse to pressurise their suppliers even more.

However, it seems that the cost cutting has reached deeper than the supply chain.  For my naive assumption that high profile events would still be getting sponsorship and support seems to be incorrect.  Last week I got talking to the fabulous, energetic people organising the London Green Fair

They told me its celebrating its 20th year, which makes it a veteran by any standard.  It is a fantastic event for anyone who’s not been.  It’s entertaining and interesting but it also gets you thinking about how we could live without damaging the planet so much.  Thousands flock to its stalls and entertainments.

But despite its cachet and the fact that it attracts so many people from all walks of life, they have been offered no substantial sponsorship deals at all this year.  And not for the want of trying.

It was then that I recalled a headline from a couple of weeks back in the Liverpool Post, it read, “Britain’s largest companies sitting on £130bn pile of cash”    Not so much CSR lite but CSR lost it appears.

PS. If anyone knows a company with 0.000001% of its profits they can donate to a good cause, introduce them to the good people at London Green Fair!



Bradford West screams out for jobs

By Colin Crooks

The warnings have been there for anyone to see.  Last December the Yorkshire Post screamed out “One-third of Bradfordhomes hit by lifetime of no work” it went to explain, “The latest figures for 24 constituencies across the region show that in Bradford West almost one-third of households contain someone who has not worked.”  Later the BBC told us “The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the Bradford West constituency has risen almost 33% to 4,926 over the last year”

While levels of deprivation have been climbing across the country, Bradford’s has been climbing fastest.  In less than 3 years, Bradford has slipped 6 places to 26th most deprived authority in England   Now more than 44% of  its population live (or 222,000) in its poorest areas   16000 more people than in 2007.

When nearly a quarter of a million people live in very deprived areas it will come as no surprise to see that Bradford ranks 5th and 6th in terms of lowest income and lowest levels of employment inEngland.

Yet, in contrast,Bradfordhas nearly 30,000 people who live in the least deprived areas of the country.  In fact, Bradford has the widest gulf between rich and poor inEngland.

When such levels of entrenched and indeed growing deprivation live cheek by jowl with wealth and prosperity it can hardly be surprising that people want to see things change and want to hear fresh ideas aimed at helping them.

The government continues to pursue what I call a supply side policy on employment.  It insists that its Work Programme will give unemployed people the skills and motivation they need to get a job.  This has been the mantra of every government for decades now – essentially, they seem to be saying that if the unemployed pick themselves up and get new skills they will walk into a job.  Really?

Let us face the facts.  I accept that many unemployed people have very low skill levels.  But, assuming we could help them all reskill, what jobs will they do?  In the autumn, Bradfordhad 2700 registered job vacancies.  There were 17,000 registered unemployed.  Add to them the number of people who want to work but can’t register and those who want full-time rather than part-time work, to allow them to make ends meet, and you get at least 2.5 times that figure.  So, in reality more than 40,000 people are chasing those 2700 vacancies.  No wonder we regularly hear stories of 50 or even a 100 people applying for each job vacancy!

We need a radical new approach and we need one quickly.  We need to create jobs that people with low skills can do.  Once they have a job we can work with them to build their skills.  As social entrepreneur, I can see hundreds of opportunities to create real jobs that provide real services for local people.  Jobs in maintenance, social care, education, health and even in entertainment.  As I have researched my new book – coming out in the summer – it has become obvious that the main barrier to creating such jobs is not the energy of the local people or their lack of skills.  It is not even money – it is something far more insidious.

At the heart of the problem of entrenched unemployment in specific areas is the obsession with “efficiency” – of getting the lowest price at the least risk.  The result is that large, highly capitalised firms get the contracts to deliver local services that do not employ local people.  The money is clearly there as government (local and national) spend millions in areas such as Bradford West.  The challenge is to help local people find better ways of spending it, which benefits them.

Until we can offer something more tangible to the millions of workless people be prepared for more electoral turbulence.