Businesses are helping to create a fairer nation

The SBC's Business Class programme is designed for business to support young people facing social disadvantage by forming long-term partnerships with schools. Picture: Julie Howden
The SBC's Business Class programme is designed for business to support young people facing social disadvantage by forming long-term partnerships with schools. Picture: Julie Howden
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COMPANIES have a duty of care to help forge a more equitable Scotland, writes Jane Wood

This summer, The Scottish Government engaged in a national discussion about what constitutes a fairer Scotland. Debates took place across the country to stimulate practical ideas around what a fairer Scotland could look like. This work will help prioritise policies that the Scottish Government can then shape and implement.

As Scotland’s leading responsible business network, Scottish Business in the Community supports the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland discussion as we both strive for a better, fairer society. We know that business has a powerful role to play as a positive force for change for individuals, communities and society as a whole. We know that businesses can play a key role in creating a fairer society. The Scottish Government rightly points out that Scotland is a great country to call home – but we can make it an even better place. Achieving this will require a strong, competitive economy and a fairer, more equal society. The two go hand in hand.

In its Discussion Paper, the Scottish Government points out that the attainment level of our school pupils has increased by a fifth since 2007/8, yet school pupils from our most deprived areas do only half as well as pupils from our least deprived areas. At SBC we are addressing this through our Business Class programme which is designed for business to support young people facing social disadvantage by forming long-term partnerships with schools. We have recently launched a targeted pilot phase of our Business Engagement in Early Years programme in the key areas of Angus, Ayrshire, the Borders, Perthshire and Lanarkshire. Through it we are working to provide children with an insight into the world of work at the start of their educational journey.

In a keynote speech delivered at the recent CBI Scotland dinner, Sir Tom Hunter talked about how we must grow a world-class educational system aligned with the markets and with employers, and that we must let vocational education flourish. The status quo is unacceptable, Mr Hunter declared.

We recognise the vital role business and industry has in enhancing the quality of the education experience by engaging appropriately in areas of the curriculum, leadership and providing better knowledge of careers, the workplace and the world of work generally. We facilitate successful businesses engagement within the current framework of the education system but there remains a question as to how this system can be improved to make the process of integrating the world of work into education and its leadership better.

Amongst other issues of concern, the Scottish Government Fairer Scotland Discussion Paper also highlights that we have a high employment rate, yet in-work poverty is increasing: over half of working age adults in poverty now live in households with at least one adult in employment. SBC’s Tackling in-work Poverty programme has, in the last 12 months, engaged over 1,100 businesses and their employees across Scotland.

People who are struggling financially are more likely to see negative impacts to health and their productivity will be adversely affected. Employers have a duty of care to employees and we continue to raise awareness.

Businesses that think beyond profit will play a crucial role in shaping a fairer society and SBC will continue to engage with them. Scotland is a wealthy country, with a higher GDP per head than the UK, yet one in six people in Scotland live in poverty. This is not a fair Scotland. Together we can and must do more.

• Jane Wood is Chief Executive of Scottish Business in the Community. www.sbcscot.com

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