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