Jane Wood: Business and goverment must work in coalition

SETTING A new agenda is vital for Scotland and its businesses says Jane Wood

Scotland needs a new relationship between business and government when it comes to social policy initiatives. Picture: Scottish Parliament

Business in the Community Scotland (BITC Scotland) has worked with businesses, governments and communities for over 30 years, engaging with the opportunities and challenges which exist at national and local levels when it comes to responsible business behaviour and the effects it can have on our society.

We believe that Scotland needs a new relationship between business and government when it comes to social policy initiatives. For too long government has created initiatives for business to adopt in its attempt to harness the private sector’s resources. The existing model has led to fruitless engagement, a plethora of activity which is not changing the landscape.

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Our approach is based on the need to re-energise the business model in order to achieve real social change. Responsible business behaviour can no longer be limited to business profits invested in “doing good”. Businesses must embed positive behaviours in the foundations of their business model.

BITC Scotland’s new model is one in which businesses set the agenda, businesses work together and businesses seek the support of government for initiatives at scale, rather than businesses responding to social policy initiatives.

Individual efforts, be those of governments, businesses or charities, can make a vital difference to the education, employment, wellbeing and environmental issues our country faces. However, it is through sustained coalitions that we will create the transformative change now required to build a stronger, more resilient Scotland.

The Scottish parliamentary election was perhaps the most important since devolution, given the significant new powers that have been devolved to Holyrood. BITC Scotland’s members want to see those powers used to change our communities for the better, which is why our member businesses have developed a strategy with such ambition. Our members are asking the Scottish Government to join with us in working towards Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Responsible Business.

In our Responsible Business Scorecard for Holyrood’s party manifestos, we set out key objectives for Scotland’s politicians to deliver on in order to make our society fairer and our future more sustainable. These included ensuring that age, gender, race and health do not limit an employee’s engagement and success in the workplace; designing smart ways to generate wealth so that our economy becomes regenerative, ensuring future business success; preventing social background predicting a young person’s success at school and beyond, and creating jobs and vibrant communities by supporting small local businesses.

Scotland’s National Action Plan for Responsible Business will create the opportunity and incentive for business and government to share concerns and, significantly, for business to pose solutions and to offer resources to deliver them. Government and business members will collaborate to improve our country’s skills shortage, literacy and numeracy, child food poverty, inequality, and digital and circular economies.

Through the Food, Families & Futures initiative, we already work with Children in Scotland and food supplier Brakes to tackle holiday hunger. We are part of a coalition of organisations supporting child literacy across Scotland with Save the Children, and our Access the Buyer programme brings large businesses together with potential SME suppliers.

The ambition to maximise the potential of Scotland’s business resources in order to tackle critical societal issues and drive change in workplaces and communities for a fairer society has always been BITC Scotland’s goal. In calling for Scotland’s National Action Plan for Responsible Business we seek to make that ambition a legacy for all of Scotland’s young people and communities.

• Jane Wood is managing director of Business in the Community Scotland and director of external affairs for Business in the Community. For more information about Business in the Community Scotland visit www.bitc.org.uk/scotland