I could not be more delighted to be here today at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Headquarters, not least because it has also given me the opportunity to see something of the restoration work carried out on this remarkable and historic building..... And, if I might say so, the fact that the Chancellor has found the time to be here this morning is a powerful demonstration of the importance of what we are tackling at this Summit, which is how the three sectors – business, the public sector and the voluntary sector – can work more closely together to improve the lives of those worst off in our society.
Looking around this room, which seems to be a collection of the “greats” of British business, feels a little like a reunion of Business in the Community alumni!
However, what I think is hugely significant is that we are holding this event by courtesy of a Government Department – HMRC. Paul Gray, our most generous host, was in fact the first person from the public sector to join Business in the Community’s “City Cares Leadership Team” over two years ago and he has maintained this commitment despite many other calls on his time. His predecessor, David Varney, who, together with the Chancellor, had the original idea for this Summit, was Chairman of Business in the Community for three years in his old private sector days, doing the most enormous amount of good around the country. Having worked on both sides of the fence, so to speak, David understands better than most the power that the public and private sectors have to make a difference – and I know he sees the potential of just what could be achieved for the voluntary sector if, today, we could find new and better ways for the three sides of the corporate social responsibility triangle to draw strength from each other.
Indeed, David’s smooth transfer from the top of the business world to the top of the Civil Service – something which was all but unheard of not very long ago – is just one example of the many barriers which have been broken down in recent years between the public and private sectors. It is this change in perception and reassessment of roles that I would like to suggest might be usefully explored this morning.
It was not long ago that the public sector used to be very clear that its role was largely to produce and implement public policy and deliver public services. Thus, by the very nature of what it did, it was delivering a public good. Likewise, the corporate sector saw its role as a driver of the economy and, again, by the very nature of what it did – in other words, providing employment, shareholder value, earning profits and paying taxes – it was delivering a public good too. And I think I would be right in saying that both those sectors saw the voluntary sector – now referred to, I believe by some, as the “third sector” – as the delivery vehicle for front-line hands-on support for individuals and groups who were in difficulties. I daresay this may be a somewhat simplistic analysis, but from where I stand and having been to a greater or lesser extent involved with all three sectors for some thirty years, one of the biggest shifts in society in recent times has been the blurring of the lines between the three sectors.
It might be interesting just for a moment to reflect on whether there was a moment in history which we can identify as the beginning of this shift. For me, I think it was the inner city riots of the early 1980s. That was when I initiated my Prince’s Trust’s Business Programme, which was my own small way of trying to give distressingly alienated and unemployed young people an economic stake in their communities – and I am delighted that my Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust is here today. And those riots were also what led me to become involved with Business in the Community, of which I was to become President in 1985, to my horror, twenty-one years ago. I felt then that there was a genuine business case for companies to be concerned about the community around them – after all, many of the members of such communities were their existing or future customers, their existing or potential employees and their close neighbours. Furthermore, I happened to believe – and I think this is something which everyone in business now accepts as a truism – that healthy high streets depend on healthy backstreets. I have never altered in that particular belief.
So even if business did not see that it had an altruistic motive to look beyond “the factory gates”, it had a good business case for doing so. But it was not easy in those early days helping companies to understand what they could do. So, after a certain amount of frustration, it suddenly dawned on me that the best way was to take them to see the problems for themselves. That was how my “Seeing is Believing Programme” began in 1990. Since then, over 4,000 business leaders have been dragged, more often than not by the irrepressible, incomparable, indomitable, but certainly not inscrutable Julia Cleverdon – and, where possible, by me – to see inner city housing estates, prisons, schools, homeless hostels and, increasingly, rural communities all over the country. The results have been staggering. There are now countless projects which have been started, enhanced or expanded as a result of business leaders seeing for themselves, and for the first time, just what a difference they could make. But by no means always with money – I kept encouraging them that help in kind was invaluable, such as advice, expertize, materials and volunteers. I am very pleased that you have remarkable examples of some of this work here today in the exhibitions: they are, of course, only the tip of a gigantic iceberg.
So I think it may be fair to say that corporate Britain began to realize the wider role it had to play about fifteen years ago. And soon after that community investment in employee time, cash and kind began to be measured and communicated through benchmarks, such as the Per Cent Standard, which I remember launching in 1986. But in today’s tougher climate even more than this is expected. That is why Business in the Community, working with both the private and voluntary sector, has developed a challenging and rigorous new standard called the Community Mark, which I am delighted to be announcing today. It will measure impact as well as input, recognizing those who can demonstrate they are making a real difference on the ground. What makes this even more relevant to today’s discussions is that because it is impact that matters, the public sector will be equally able to participate.
This is significant because the second sleeping giant, the public sector, has taken a little longer to stir in any large scale, co-ordinated way. But having done so, what a difference it has proved it can make..! Under the leadership of Sir Nicholas Montagu and then Sir David Varney, and with the support of Ann Chant (whom I have since snaffled from peaceful retirement to work for my Prince’s Charities as a sort of Mrs Fix-it), the then Inland Revenue became the first public sector organization to enter Business in the Community’s Corporate Social Responsibility Index, and at its first attempt it made it into the top one hundred – an astonishing achievement. I have seen for myself examples of the community support which this Department gives when I visited its Bradford and Bristol offices not so long ago. Indeed, the Paymaster General joined me at Bristol. The local impact these offices were having was huge. Some staff were volunteering in local schools to read with children, others were part of Business in the Community’s ProHelp scheme, offering professional help to charitable community groups, and others were giving invaluable job training to homeless people. Like some other organizations in both the public and private sector, by the very nature of its business objectives H.M.R.C. can alienate some sections of society, thereby making its work that much more difficult. I heard for myself how excellent community programmes can lower these barriers – to the benefit of everyone.
I am full of admiration for Paul Gray who, I know, is continuing to ensure that HMRC staff throughout the U.K. undertake corporate responsibility activities for the same sound business reasons and I can only congratulate him and his Department for the lead which they are giving. Although I know many Departments do excellent work at a local level, dare I say it, H.M.R.C.’s degree of co-ordinated activity across a department, involving the most senior managers in its planning, is still something of a rarity in the public sector. I really do believe there is a huge capacity for other Departments to become involved to the same extent and achieve equally outstanding results.
No one will be surprised to know that I am enormously encouraged that climate change and sustainable development feature strongly in this Summit today. I am afraid I could make another speech on these subjects all on their own, but you will be relieved to hear that, on this occasion at least, I won’t! However, it does strike me that this unique event offers an opportunity to consider the further blurring of lines between the three sectors. It is, thankfully, becoming more commonplace for the commercial sector at least to recognize its role and responsibility in these areas – even though I happen to believe that business can do a great deal more, which is why I am delighted that two of my key charities which operate in this area, my Business and the Environment Programme and In Kind Direct, are here to show how they can help business address the environmental challenges they face. At the same time, the public sector has also begun to change its behaviour, recognizing that the sheer scale of its operations, for example in consumptions of energy, gives it enormous scope to make a real difference and I do urge the public sector to continue in these efforts. But I also wonder if the voluntary sector also appreciates that it, too, has a responsibility to ensure that its activities, and how it carries them out, are environmentally sustainable?
Within the last year, I have not only introduced in my own Household carbon reduction plans and made it carbon neutral, but I have also asked my Core Charities to benchmark themselves against recognized sustainable environmental practices. The exercise is proving very worthwhile and I know many other charities are doing the same sort of thing. But it’s not commonplace and I think some charities might find this counter-intuitive – I know some of my own did. But surely every sector has an equal responsibility for the planet on which we live and the state in which we leave it for future generations?
Just before I close, I want, if I may, to give one example of the difference which can be made when the three sectors truly work hand in hand. Business in the Community’s homelessness work which is exhibiting here provides a perfect case study. It has worked with nearly 2,000 homeless people, offering two-week work placements. The result is that nearly 70 per cent find jobs. These bald statistics sound impressive, but look beyond them to the individuals whose lives have been changed. I have met a large number in recent years and am always moved by their stories. This programme quite literally picks people out of the gutter and puts them back on their feet, giving them back their self-respect, allowing them once again to care for their families and enabling them to earn a living. There are three parts to the secret of this success. First, the involvement of companies such as Marks and Spencer, KPMG, Barclays and, as you will see in the exhibition outside, H.M.R.C. which offer job placements. Secondly, the close co-operation of key homelessness agencies. Thirdly, the financial and strategic support of Government departments.
In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the sum of the whole is far, far greater that the sum of the three parts represented in this room today. No one sector by itself, however effective, can tackle the problems which inevitably exist in society. None of you has a monopoly of skills, resources or time. But, working co-operatively, the difference which can be made is remarkable.
So we need to learn from your different experiences and we also need innovation: we need a new determination to raise the game, which is why I am so looking forward to hearing the outcome of your workshops, and to reading the final report. I can only hope that this Summit is an occasion which results in a real step change in the quality and consistency of corporate social responsibility throughout the UK. If we can do it, the benefits to those worst off in our communities will be incalculable.