Business as usual?

With public sector funds pulled the government is pitching the private sector as the future of regeneration. But is it doing enough to ensure private coffers will flow and are businesses willing to make the leap towards greater responsibility? Clare Goff reports

Victorian philanthropy had its flaws, as Hilda Brailsford, one of the oldest residents of Ironville, a village in Derbyshire set up and run by the local iron company, remembers. The Butterley Company may have provided housing, a school and other community facilities for their workers and their families and won acclaim for its planning, but Brailsford has no misty-eyed nostalgia for the low pay and poor housing her family suffered.

But the model company village approach – particularly the likes of Port Sunlight in Merseyside and Bournville in Birmingham – still shine as examples of, albeit paternalistic, private sector involvement in local economies and social issues. One hundred year or so years later, as government shifts policy to entice the private sector into greater levels of involvement in their local communities, and Ed Miliband calls for ‘good businesses’ to be taxed separately to ‘bad business’, are we at the dawn of a new era of corporate social responsibility?

Since it came into power the coalition government has been focused on shifting greater responsibility for the economy onto the shoulders of the private sector. Private sector job creation is at the heart of its faltering economic recovery and private businesses are driving the agenda at the new local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). Through neighbourhood plans, enterprise zones, and the community infrastructure levy, the role of businesses in shaping the areas in which they operate is set to rise.

For many companies involved in regeneration the new emphasis on localism and private sector responsibility offers them a chance to show off what they have been doing for many years.

Business engagement with communities has long been a part of their day-to-day business. Mike Spicer, senior policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce, says the civic-minded local businesses it represents throughout Britain have been ‘doing Big Society for hundred of years’, often below the radar.

Clare Goff

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine

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