First Person: Alan Thornburrow examines inclusive growth in business

Alan Thornburrow, Scotland Director of Business in the Community
Alan Thornburrow, Scotland Director of Business in the Community

Poverty and inequality should have no place in modern Scotland and yet, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, one in four children grows up poor. Scottish Government statistics show that, in 2015-166, 62 per cent of working age adults in poverty and 66 per cent of children in poverty lived in households where someone was in work. Just being in work is no guarantee of escaping poverty.

According to the most recent international statistics on educational attainment, standards of literacy and numeracy are falling, with 15-year-olds from poorer families in Scotland two to three years behind their better-off peers in science, maths and reading.

Sadly, we aren’t alone: the UK overall ranks second highest of all EU member states in levels of income inequality – and inequality is bad for us all, not just the least well off.

One could despair over the future too. Our demography – a population that is both ageing and growing too slowly – seems stacked against future prosperity, and the unknown impacts of macro factors such as Brexit and the digital transformation of business could exacerbate inequality.

In a country still recovering from the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, it should come as no surprise that the Edelman Trust Barometer in 2017 shows that trust in society, public institutions and business has broken down.

There is public expectation that business must lead the process of rebuilding and strengthening healthy communities.

Never has there been a more pressing need for strong communities with business at their heart.

Business in the Community (BITC) has long known that responsible business is not an adjunct to business as usual, nor is it about how profits are spent on “good causes”; it’s a fundamental commitment to act as a force for good that must inform everything a business does.

Our founders established BITC in response to the London race riots in the 1980s, recognising that the private sector had to play a bigger part in revitalising communities and that this could not simply be done through charitable gestures.

When businesses collaborate, bringing their collective resource and leadership to bear on pressing social issues, the compound impact we can have is meaningful.

Since I joined BITC as Scotland director, I have worked with our team, membership and stakeholders to understand how we can create that compound impact at scale. And I truly believe that means we have cause for optimism.

By bringing businesses into early years centres and schools, we can raise aspirations and confidence and give young people meaningful experience of working life.

By enabling lifelong learning, we help people up the career ladder, out of low paid positions and through the ongoing seismic changes brought by digital transformation.

We can enable our ageing population to stay in good work for longer through development of new skills and confidence.

By reducing systemic barriers, we can improve access to jobs for all. We can recognise the talents of women, people with disabilities and those from black and minority ethnic communities.

We can and must create working cultures which no longer stigmatise people based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, past criminal convictions or history of mental ill health.

By creating leadership opportunities, we enable businesses to share what they’re getting right, and understand what they need to change to do better.

We know there remains much to do to create a truly fair and inclusive Scotland which is thriving and sustainable. With business working with government and others to drive inclusive growth, we believe that this ambition is within our collective reach.

Alan Thornburrow is Scotland director of Business in the Community

This article appears in the WINTER 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. Further information about Vision Scotland here.