By Lee Mannion
LONDON, Sept 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Optimism among British social enterprises has fallen sharply ahead of Brexit due to fears of loss of European funding, trade and labour, a survey said on Thursday.
One major worry is whether British entrepreneurs using businesses to tackle social problems will be eligible for European Union (EU) grants and technical support after Britain's planned departure.
Uncertainty over Brexit is having a negative impact on business across Britain, coinciding with a slowdown in the wider economy and rising inflation.
"It's worth noting that one in 12 social enterprises gets some income from Europe," Nick Temple, deputy chief executive of Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which represents the growing sector, said at a briefing.
One main challenge faced by social entrepreneurs is accessing grants, debt or investment, which is critical for building ventures for impact.
The West Midlands was the least optimistic region, with only half of social enterprises believing they would grow in the next year, down from 69 percent in 2015, SEUK's survey of almost 1,600 businesses found.
Britain triggered the formal process to leave the EU in March after 52 percent of Britons voted last year to leave the bloc amid concerns about immigration, deteriorating public services, competition for jobs and a general economic malaise.
The EU is a significant source of funding for social enterprises, as well as providing migrant workers and tariff-free access to the single market.
For example, three out of 10 finalists in the EU-funded 2017 European Social Innovation Competition are British.
Winners will receive 150,000 euros ($179,040 U.S.) to support a business idea that would equip people with skills to live in an increasingly digital world.
About 70,000 social enterprises operate in Britain, having grown by a fifth over the last decade, SEUK data show.
Britain is regarded as a global leader in supporting social enterprises, with innovative financial and legal policies.
For example, it encourages government procurement officers to consider the social and environmental impact of contracts they award rather than just going with the lowest bid. (Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.