‘There is a base­line of be­hav­iour that the pub­lic rightly ex­pects’

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Beckie Hart

For gen­er­a­tions, good business has been seen as the very foun­da­tion of pros­per­ity, job cre­ation, and de­liv­er­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices that im­prove all our lives. But today, business is fac­ing some fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about its role in so­ci­ety. Is it a so­lu­tion for, or a driver of in­equal­ity? Should its voice be heard on the big­gest is­sues this coun­try faces? Should the state take con­trol of large chunks of the econ­omy?

That’s why trust in business is so es­sen­tial in a mod­ern so­ci­ety and why it is of great concern to find that the rep­u­ta­tion of business with the pub­lic has taken a 20 per cent dip here in our re­gion, more than 10 per cent greater than the na­tional av­er­age.

I could fill this col­umn with ex­am­ples of busi­nesses tak­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to their em­ploy­ees, clients, sup­pli­ers and com­mu­nity very se­ri­ously and as the voice of business will do what I can to make sure those stories are told.

Last Tues­day, the CBI and Porter Novelli pub­lished our lat­est polling on business rep­u­ta­tion, car­ried out by Opinium – and there are some clear lessons to be learnt to keep en­ter­prise at the heart of our econ­omy. Ask any CEO and they’ll tell you that the fastest route to com­pany extinction is a break­down in trust.

It can of­ten feel one step for­ward, two steps back though. The col­lapse of Car­il­lion, the abuse of per­sonal data by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica and the sham­bles over BHS pen­sions, amongst oth­ers, hurt all firms. It can’t be a sur­prise that 78 per cent of the pub­lic want firms to do more to value women’s equal­ity, but the pres­i­dents’ club de­ba­cle highlights the ur­gency. An in­di­vid­ual scan­dal can put the brakes on the un­de­ni­able im­prove­ments the wider business com­mu­nity are mak­ing, or the sim­ple, un­her­alded dayto-day ac­tiv­i­ties of firms get­ting on with the job in the towns and cities across our re­gion.

But de­spite the fact only 49 per cent of peo­ple in our re­gion be­lieve the rep­u­ta­tion of business is good com­pared with 69 per cent when we last ran the poll less than a year ago, there are more en­cour­ag­ing signs.

The build­ing blocks for im­prove­ments in the longer term are be­ing put in place, piece-by­p­iece. For ex­am­ple, in the last six months the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of business lead­ers has picked up, in our re­gion this im­proved by over 10 per cent.

Even more telling is the in­crease in the pub­lic’s knowl­edge about the con­tri­bu­tion business makes – up to 54 per cent – and just un­der three-quar­ters of peo­ple from York­shire and the Hum­ber re­port a pos­i­tive relationship with their em­ployer.

Per­haps the most strik­ing find­ing is nine out of ten peo­ple in our re­gion want busi­nesses to speak out on the is­sues that mat­ter to them and im­pact their lives. Is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance, from Brexit and im­mi­gra­tion to gen­der pay gaps. There is a strong ap­petite to hear from busi­nesses to help in­form the de­bates we see in Par­lia­ment, the me­dia and across kitchen ta­bles.

But what must busi­nesses do bet­ter? Well, the ev­i­dence is clear there is a base­line of be­hav­iour that the pub­lic rightly ex­pects. That means treat­ing em­ploy­ees well, pay­ing a fair share of tax and tack­ling un­fair pay – both at the low and high end of the scale.

These are all is­sues on the pub­lic’s radar and are set to re­main so. Be­hav­ing in a way which is fair and trans­par­ent for cus­tomers, em­ploy­ees and com­mu­ni­ties, can only be good for business.

Business lead­ers and politi­cians need some­one they care about on their shoul­der. And for ev­ery de­ci­sion they take, they must be able to look that per­son in the eye and back their choices with pride. Only by as­sess­ing our weak­nesses hon­estly and build­ing a crit­i­cal mass of good cor­po­rate be­hav­iour can we ever hope to not find our­selves de-railed by the next big scan­dal and set­ting back the rep­u­ta­tion of business once

again.

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