Government must do more to help businesses deliver for left behind communities
Businesses in the United Kingdom are keen to play their part to deliver for communities across the country, especially as the cost of living crisis continues to impact people from all walks of life.
The government’s levelling up agenda aims to reduce inequalities for people up and down the country. Businesses want to play their part in this crucial work, but they need some key government interventions to make it happen.
This is the strong message to ministers that came out of a recent Business in the Community (BITC) report, Partnership in Place: The Business of Levelling Up. In summer 2021, BITC launched a call for evidence to understand how businesses are supporting communities and what best practice looks like. This consultation led to the publication of a report which focuses on the role of business in building stronger and more resilient communities.
The need for large businesses to get behind regeneration is clear
As part of the consultation, businesses and other stakeholders were asked on a scale from one to 10, how conducive they rate the current environment to businesses wanting to contribute to regeneration. The average assessment overall was 5.9 out of 10, and strikingly, the lowest scores of only two out of 10 were from very large businesses. The need for large businesses to get behind regeneration is clear, and based on these findings, it’s evident that the government is missing a very big trick.
Throughout 2022, as part of The Prince’s Seeing is Believing programme, BITC took business leaders to visit foodbanks, youth organisations, and community centres in Bradford, Coventry, Norwich and Rochdale, where business leaders met with people to understand the issues impacting their communities. Since these visits, businesses have pledged to take action to address the issues they saw. For example, BITC connected Foleshill Community Centre and Social Supermarket with Salesforce, Coventry Building Society and Linklaters, which has led to funding from these businesses for the centre to improve its kitchen facilities and create an on-site café to generate income.
With 40 years of community and place-based activism behind it, BITC’s report demonstrates the value of creating collaborative strategic boards bringing together businesses, local councils, NGOs, Local Economic Partnerships and universities.
Business-led and independent, they can work to drive transformative change in our most deprived and left behind communities. The key component is developing a vision for the community that local stakeholders can input into and get behind. The best example of this model is in Blackpool where the BITC sponsored partnership is beginning to deliver long-term and transformative change, which in turn has led to the government announcing a strategic levelling up partnership between the government and local players in Blackpool.
Supporting communities can come in many forms. But the experience of businesses working with BITC in Blackpool, Bradford, Coventry, Lowestoft, Norwich, Rochdale, Sheffield and Wisbech suggests that what works best is the development of a partnership supported by a jointly funded local “connector”. These connectors work to bring businesses, councils, civic institutions and charities together, to make the changes locally to improve people’s lives and regenerate communities. The government is now in the process of appointing regional levelling up directors. If they can be linked to the direction and activity generated by these local strategic boards, and their connectors working in the community, then change will come.
In its white paper on levelling up, the government said it envisaged a major role for the private sector in making levelling up a reality. The BITC report makes it clear that without a plan to actively engage businesses they will fall short of their ambition. Town Deal Boards saw government encourage business leaders to take the lead in local partnerships and while this programme has successfully mobilised business interest, this intervention has not yet fully exploited the potential of business leadership. The government has set out its 12 missions as targets for 2030: The BITC report is a response to that challenge.
With the challenges in the UK’s left-behind places only being exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, levelling up is more important than ever, and the business community stands ready to help.
Baroness Valentine, crossbench peer and co-director of Place, Business in the Community.
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