Living standards, and the role of business in boosting them, was the theme of a lively Great Business Debate event last week (12.06.15).
Kicking off the session, CBI Director-general John Cridland argued that businesses know they have a big part to play in making sure that people feel the benefits of economic growth. Speaking to an audience of business leaders, journalists and policy influencers Mr Cridland said that if firms fail to do their bit, then they risk both the confidence of the public and their ‘licence to operate’.
Drawing on his experience as a former member of the Low Pay Commission, Mr Cridland argued that he was proud of his role in helping to introduce the first National Minimum Wage in the UK, but less proud of the fact that after 14 years, a third of people were still earning the minimum wage. Mr Cridland went on to identify education reform and helping people to earn more as key priorities for helping more people to feel the benefits of growth.
— The CBI (@CBItweets) June 12, 2015
Panellists picked up the topic of helping more people to earn more. Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC argued that there was a role for business and unions to help people together – from tackling the cultural challenge of productivity to investing in skills and education. No one has a greater interest in the success of a company than the workers whose livelihoods depend on it, she said. Stronger employment rights wouldn’t equate to fewer jobs, she went on to assert.
Speaking next, Estelle Brachlianoff, Veolia Senior Executive Vice-President UK & Ireland argued that there was no sustainable growth without balance. Sharing her own experience of heading up major employers Veolia, Ms Brachlianoff asserted that a company’s first duty is to create jobs. Firms then need to upskill their employees and support their wider communities.
Matthew Whittaker, Chief Economist at the Resolution Foundation talked about the changing relationship between employment and pay. Some factors made it more likely for people to remain stuck on low pay, he said, including those who work part-time or are single parents. Mr Whittaker argued that employers can help by adopting flexible practices and engaging staff in a timely way.
Key themes that emerged over the course of the discussion included the concern that young people are worse off than previous generations, how smaller businesses can best help people to get on in work, what the pathways are to higher skilled roles and how unions and business can work more effectively together to deliver for employees.