Use the recession to invest in community

Insecurity at work is an ever-present influence, particularly following the
events of 11 September and the increased likelihood of recession. In times like
these, it is important that companies give some thought to their role in the
communities they live in.

It is not part of British corporate culture to give great priority to this.
It is an especially weak part of British business priorities compared to the
US. Shareholder value comes first and cutting costs seems to be the instinctive
reaction to business slowdown.

And yet, surely it is in a recessionary atmosphere that investment in an
organisation’s corporate reputation pays the best long-term dividends. Staff
commitment, and the business advantages it brings, is needed more when times
are hard.

Community involvement comes in many forms. There has been much recent
comment on the low level of corporate giving to charity in Britain. However,
cash gifts are not the real community partnerships that make the crucial
difference. Community commitment by companies means time and people working to
extend local opportunities – an expansion of training help, of sharing business
expertise with local public services and, above all, working in schools.

Few companies do enough in schools. They also miss the opportunity of
getting schools liaison work done by a wider variety of workers. So much of the
schools work that does go on is performed by under-resourced junior HR
managers. And yet it is a terrific opportunity for local businesses to
demonstrate the usefulness of industry, the dignity of wealth production, and
the comradeship that work can bring.

Many of us feel that young people are turning their back on wealth creation.
The AEEU has just launched its own learning fund to make a trade union
contribution to local community work, and many of the companies we deal with
are matching our contributions.

But once again, the significance is not simply financial. We aim to show
this work as an extension of the partnership agenda. It is vital that workers
and managers together go as far as they can to protect the communities they all
draw their livelihoods from.

Of course, all employers are looking at costs at the moment and the time of
key workers is money. But to withdraw from contributing to local schools would
be a mistake. It is the same sort of short-sightedness that closes training and
apprenticeship programmes only to see complaints about skills shortages when
the better times return.

Business involvement is not an optional extra. It is the vital outreach that
will fundamentally make our country able to keep its rightful place in the
business world.

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