Jim MULLAN seems ready for anything.

And I don't just mean taking on the job of new group chief executive of the Big Issue in the UK on Monday.

The former general manager of social enterprise KibbleWorks, in Paisley, is also ready for every question about the often controversial magazine for homeless people.

He is frank about public concerns about the company he is joining: a perception that too many immigrants are now selling the magazine (false on several levels, he says), that some vendors use it to fund drug habits, and that gang-masters attempt to control its distribution in parts of the country.

However, he is also honest about mistakes made by the company. Not so much relating to the weekly magazine it publishes, but other aspects of its work, such as communication.

But he is bullish about the future for the company and the contribution it can make in areas such as alleviating poverty.

He is to be in charge not only of the publishing arm of the social business, but also the charitable Big Issue Foundation, and Big Issue Invest, which backs other social enterprises including Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant.

"As soon as you join The Big Issue you become aware of an organisation that generates strong opinions, positive and negative," he explains. "But at a time when you can see a rise in food banks, payday loans, and the working poor, do I believe there is still a role for this organisation? Is it the kind of challenge I want to take on? Absolutely."

Inaccurate opinions surrounding the organisation include a lack of understanding that vendors aren't given magazines free of charge, he says. By buying the magazine to sell on to the public, they are engaging in micro-enterprise that shows they are keen to help themselves. "Every vendor takes an even money punt on themselves with every magazine they purchase to sell on," he adds. "The average sale is £42 per week for a typical vendor. No-one is getting rich on this."

Many people do understand this, he says. That small amount of money is about helping those who are willing to help themselves, and the company's true role should be seen in poverty alleviation, rather than tackling homelessness - although the companies can be proud of helping keep that issue prominent for 20 years, he says.

"Our true impact is more recognisable in poverty alleviation. This firm can demonstrate that it has put £500 million in the pockets of people for whom that might be the thing that holds their life together."

It has been less successful at publicising that, he claims. "The organisation hasn't been historically as proactive as it might have been about making sure people understand that area of work. It may have relied on the fact that it had its own organ in printed circulation, but this can become a series of diminishing returns."

Addressing the company's public profile will thus be part of his role, as well as being more outward looking, building partnerships in areas where other charities can enhance what is offered to vendors.

This applies to one of the areas which he concedes undermines public support - the proportion of vendors who have addiction problems. The Big Issue needs to recognise that it can't solve all the pastoral problems some vendors have, he says.

"In relation to addiction, whether it is to drugs or alcohol, I think it is probably a step too far to expect an organisation focused on the things we do to solve this problem. But we can have links with other charities, so we have systems in place to save the ones who want to save themselves."

"A proportion of the public does fear putting money in the pockets of dealers, or paying for someone's addiction. Will we turn around the minds of those people? We probably can't. But I believe a more substantial proportion want to support people who are trying to support themselves." A lack of communication is more damaging than being up front about such challenges, he says.

The same applies to the issue of people from Eastern European countries selling the magazine.

Anyone who is vulnerably housed or unemployed and facing financial crisis can be a vendor. This includes immigrants, and in some cases they can be more proactive, he suggests.

"For people who are unemployed in underdeveloped economies, which lack our social security structure, that combination of factors inclines people in these countries to be entrepreneurial with their labour as a matter of survival, as a matter of necessity. But selling the Big Issue is not a lifestyle choice."

Although there are seasonal fluctuations, the valance between immigrant and British-born vendors is about 50-50, he says. But he disputes the common suspicion that vendors are run by gang-masters, creaming off takings.

Where that does happen, the public should know that it is robustly policed, he adds. "If you are in a cash-based industry, you are vulnerable to that kind of behaviour. But I see how hard our outreach staff are working to close down such operations, UK-wide, to ensure that people don't migrate from one part of the country to another. We understand where every pitch in the country is, and who is on it. No-one is sacrificing a social, moral or ethical position on this for the sake of sales."

A well-kent figure in the west of Scotland, Mr Mullan's CV includes a five-year spell at the Govan Initiative and as a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, before a decade at Kibble, during which the KibbleWorks organisation transformed its training operation for people who are leaving care.

But he will not be leading radical change at the Big Issue, he says. Instead there will be a refocusing. The charitable Foundation in Scotland has been largely inactive, and work is likely to be targeted instead at building a better alliance with partners such as housing associations who can help vendors. "Does Scotland really need another charitable foundation?" he says.

"I think the group needs to find something that looks much more like a public health model."

The three elements of the Big Issue can be seen as triage, he says, with the magazine sales as the emergency care. "It is where the rubber meets the road. The foundation offers rehabilitation to help people move on in their lives."

Most crucial is the social investment work, he says. "I'd rather begin to consider how we can support organisations that can help prevent the incidence of a lot of the chaos that envelops the lives of our vendors."