David Cameron urged to communicate Big Society vision better to businesses

David Cameron advised to persuade companies to raid their CSR budgets.

Party conference: Cameron spoke on the Big Society
Party conference: Cameron spoke on the Big Society

David Cameron has been urged to do more to communicate his Big Society vision to business, including calling on firms to increase their corporate and social responsibility budgets.

The Prime Minister made another attempt to kickstart the Big Society last week in his speech to the Conservative Party conference. However, he has struggled to convince many commentators that the idea of channelling people's voluntary efforts will work in practice.

This week, one leading authority in sustainable comms suggested that Cameron should persuade big firms to spend more on CSR. Futerra co-founder Solitaire Townsend said: 'It's really interesting that there's been no mention of CSR in any Big Society conversations.

'At the moment, there is no clear role for a huge percentage of the economy in Big Society, even small businesses. They've mentioned co-operatives and charities, but how about profit-making businesses? The Government needs to define what the role of profit-making business is in the Big Society. And then it can start squeezing them for cash.'

However, the idea that firms should increase their CSR budgets was not endorsed by Business in the Community, the UK-based network of businesses committed to 'building a sustainable future for people and planet'.

BiTC head of media Vicky Gashe said the organisation had been asked by Government to consult its members - which include Barclays, BT and Unilever - on how business can contribute to the Big Society agenda. It is working with various government departments, the Office for Civil Society and Lord Wei, who is leading the agenda in the House of Lords.

Gashe said the business community was keen to play its part, but insisted: 'It's not about money or increasing budgets ...

It doesn't have to be cash injections in to community funds. It's much more innovative.'

BiTC will set out its plans for engaging with the Big Society at its AGM on 2 December. A Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed that 'the Big Society does stretch to business', but said there were no plans to get firms to increase CSR budgets.

Cameron earlier this year spoke of setting up voluntary 'responsibility deals' with businesses to tackle problems such as waste.

How I see it

JOHN LEHAL, MD, INSIGHT PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Cameron has been unafraid to take advice from figures such as Philip Green. Looking wider, he should ensure the business community is in broad consensus over its role in the mooted 'responsibility deal'. The PM needs to get buy-in from beyond blue-chip businesses to deliver the results.

AMANDA POWELL-SMITH, DIRECTOR, FORSTER

There's a really exciting role for business in the Big Society, but I don't think it's just a question of increasing CSR budgets. It's time to rethink the models rather than just put more money into existing initiatives. It might not be about cash, it might be jobs, resources or expertise.

- 96% of CEOs think sustainability should be integrated into operations

- 88% of CEOs think sustainability should be integrated through supply chain

- 72% of CEOs think brand, reputation and trust are top factors

- 60% of CEOs believe the public demands greater transparency from business

Source: Echo Research 2010.

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