Social Enterprise has a vital role to play in rural communities like the ones I represent in Argyll and Bute. It can tackle local issues with strong local knowledge and good local skills and it often fills gaps in service provision which are inevitable at times of financial and social pressure. It also does so whilst creating employment and offering valuable volunteering opportunities.
That is why I am so supportive of both social enterprise and so grateful for the work that Vital Spark has done to raise the profile of the social enterprise approach as a way of doing business. In so doing it has helped both the participants and the wider community to understand what social enterprise means as well as illustrate the positive impact it can have.
I have visited many social enterprise projects throughout Argyll and Bute and many others across Scotland in the various Ministerial roles over the past ten years. Some have lasted a long while whilst others have been just starting out, like the puppetry enterprise I met on Rothesay just last year.
I am particularly delighted that in Argyll and Bute there are no less than 18 such early stage social enterprises in development and I am excited about their future. Local MSPs should be - and are - focused on assisting those who are keen to make a difference and such social enterprises are just that.
Last night I was pleased to be able to sponsor a reception in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate the Vital Spark social enterprise programme. It was great to meet some of the inspiring people on the Vital Spark programme at the event and read about others in the new publication.
I am also glad that Firstport will still have a presence beyond the life of this programme. They will continue delivering workshops, seeking out networking opportunities and providing funding support such as the forthcoming new Awards Programme which will offer start up grants of £500 to young people during 2018 - the Year of Young People.
All of those things are vital in the social enterprise sector and all of them can be helped by MSPs.
In addition the movement will be supported and stimulated locally with InspirAlba continuing to be active as well as other complementary initiatives such as the Bute Island Alliance and the UnLtd Resilient Communities programme.