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What role should businesses play in the communities in which we work?

The debate about business and its role in society has been raging for many years now, so I welcome this forum and its attempt to open up a two-way conversation between business and the wider public.

The reality is that the vast majority of people spend a lot of their time working, shopping and socialising in, or through, our businesses. As employers we play a big role in people’s daily lives and we’re often embedded in local communities and have been for many years.

It is, however, becoming clear that the public wants more from business, particularly where we are big stakeholders in their community or where we provide crucial services. So what do I think can be done?

A lot is already happening. At Interserve, a support services and construction company, we have taken a step back from the day job to consider our impact on a wide range of areas – on local communities, our supply chains, employees and the environment to name just a few.

The response was our SustainAbilities plan that sets firm commitments for us to deliver against in the years ahead. Through this programme we have, for example made a commitment to reinvest 3pc of our profits into the communities in which we operate. We are launching a number of initiatives to improve the skills and job-and-life prospects of the people living there. We are offering open book accounting on public sector contracts. We are also committing to providing healthier meal choices in hospitals, schools and prisons and to including “‘wellbeing” targets in business contracts.

This mirrors our approach on certain construction projects, where we are committing at the outset to employ, create apprenticeships and source materials locally.

“The public wants more from business, particularly where we are big stakeholders in their community or where we provide crucial services“

These a just a few examples, but they build a picture of what companies can do to make sure local communities see the benefits of work and services that are being delivered in their area. More broadly, companies need to engage their workforce and look at how they can provide opportunities and skills for them to progress as well. Again, this is something we are keen to tackle head on and I know other businesses are taking big steps too.

In our industry, making sure that the benefits of a construction project, for example, are felt locally is an important way in which we can demonstrate a wider commitment to that community. It is just one example in one sector, but it makes a big difference in how we are perceived and in how much we engage with the communities where we work.

I am keen to hear what people think business could, and should, be doing to help address some of the big challenges we face as a society. I believe business plays a positive role and contributes a huge amount, but there is always more we can do and I look forward to hearing many fresh ideas in the coming weeks and months through the ‘Great Business Debate’.

Adrian has been Chief Executive of Interserve since 2003 during which time the Group has developed from 15,000 to over 75,000 people, with operations in over 40 countries providing services to governments and a range of commercial and industrial clients.

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