5. True corporate social responsibility and support for small and social businesses:
Big business has, on the whole, become disconnected from the places in which it is based, the communities that surround it and the needs of its workers. Many pay below the Living Wage, operate zero-hour contracts and run corporate social responsibility projects that are superficial. But inward investment and foreign direct investment schemes often remain at the heart of local economic development, with councils incentivising big business to become established in their areas, and expecting little in return beyond the creation of jobs which can be short-term and unsuited to the skills of the local labour force. Social corporate responsibility plans are often superficial and usually revolve around voluntary activities in the community rather than committing to well-paid jobs, good terms and conditions for employees and fair ratios between the highest and lowest paid in the company. Foundational economy work in Enfield council in north London has been successful in getting more back from local employers in the utilities sector. Training programmes and long-term job progression are now being incorporated into major development projects in cities. A step-change is needed, in which business understands its social and civic role and incorporates that into its operations. In Leeds a Civic Enterprise programme is engaging some of the city’s big businesses in civic duties, particularly around its Child Friendly Leeds agenda. Many councils now have business charters, setting out what is expected from the businesses they work with. As small and micro-enterprises and freelance businesses grow in number, councils are taking steps to support them. Included in the Glasgow City Region City Deal is specialist business support for small and medium- sized businesses in the care sector, to help them become more resilient and to position this vital sector as a viable and progressive career route. The Welsh Assembly has commissioned work around a collaborative economy, which would see the public and social sector working in partnership to build key sectors such as care.
Who’s doing it:
Leeds Civic Enterprise | Glasgow City Region City Deal | Welsh Assembly | Social Value Taskforce run by the Federation of Small Businesses | Poverty Truth Commission in Leeds | Foundational economies
What it needs:
A greater understanding of the civic and social role of business; greater networking between local businesses and the public sector and other anchor institutions; collaborations between business and communities to build local supply chains and to enable and support local food production or new enterprises for example. In particular there is a need at the local level for Living Wage agreements and business charters which set out the principles expected of local employers.
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine