Telling a good story

13 May, 2016

What business does and how it does it have come under challenge in recent years.

In the years since the recession there has been a loud debate about the contribution that business makes to our economy and society.

Negative stories about business continue to make the headlines – from the handling of company tax affairs to how much its executives are paid. Against this backdrop, it’s perhaps no surprise that there has been an increase in public scrutiny and demands for greater transparency.

Public expectations are rising too. According to one CBI poll (CBI/YouGov survey, April 2014), the majority of people agreed that expectations on businesses are higher than they were ten years ago.

But business has a positive story to tell. At the CBI, we believe that when business does well, everyone benefits.

It’s why the CBI has launched the Great Business Debate, a campaign to talk about the value of business to the UK.

Up and down the country, businesses are creating and supporting jobs, putting money in our pockets to save or spend. Firms are contributing the taxes that help pay for things like schools and hospitals.

And let’s not forget that companies are delivering the products and services we need – from increasing the choice and quality of food available, to innovating and driving new technology.

Simply by doing what it does best, business is a force for good in society and in our economy.

And many businesses go even further. Every day, we hear from members that are going further to support society.

For example, around three quarters of firms now have some kind of link with schools or colleges, supporting our education system to deliver more for young people.

Many firms are finding ways to incorporate responsibility into everything they do – from firms like waste management company Veolia, where 20% of their UK turnover now comes from the circular economy, to Greggs the bakers who helped more than 300 people from marginalised groups become more ‘employable’ in 2014.

At the CBI, we think that businesses need to do more to tell their story and speak up about the great many things they do.

Outside of business and policy circles, evidence suggests that awareness of the great things businesses do is low.

For example, CBI research with Ipsos MORI (CBI/Ipsos MORI, Business and Tax – Perils of Perception, October 2015) found that the majority of people significantly underestimate the tax contribution that businesses make, and over estimate the amount of corporation tax that goes unpaid.

Business clearly needs to get better at speaking out about how it makes a difference.

A proactive, credible position on reporting priorities, shared by the business community, is part of this picture. It can also underpin growth, if reporting can better support companies in developing strategies, risk management policies and the identification of future risks and market opportunities. This is a role that Integrated Reporting has been developed to fulfil.

Businesses support the move towards meaningful transparency, provided that it is not just transparency for transparency’s sake.

It’s also why the CBI has created The Great Business Debate, as a platform to set out the facts about what business does, encourage businesses to share their positive stories and to encourage others to give us their views on business and where it could do more.

In an increasingly interconnected world, telling the positive story about business becomes even more important. As a planet we face major challenges, from global warming to poverty and demographic changes. Technology and information systems are changing.

Business has the resource, expertise and scale to be able to make a difference. So let’s get firms thinking about their reputation – the values and ideals which their company stands for.

And let’s encourage companies to think of the next generation and all the challenges they will face.

Let’s show that companies aren’t faceless machines. They’re run by people, with people and for people.

Let’s prove that business is part of society, not set apart from it.