Companies are increasingly giving community relations and public
affairs a higher priority. But many are failing to communciate this fact
internally and externally, and are therefore not reaping the benefit in
reputation that they might. This despite the clear emphasis Tony Blair
has laid on the social role of business in tackling some of the great
social challenges Britain faces.
When I left my job as chief press officer of the Labour Party in 1991
after five years to take up a post with a corporate citizenship NGO, The
Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, former colleagues were
Surely they were worlds apart?
Ironically, in the policy review that followed the 1992 election defeat,
senior Labour politicians started to take a close interest in the
corporate-community partnerships and volunteer schemes being promoted by
non-profits such as the Princes Trust Volunteers.
It should be no surprise that today the Government actively promotes
Corporate Community Involvement (CCI). New Labour believes business
should be free to flourish in a competitive market, but should recognise
it has a responsibility to put something back into the community. But
while the Government of 1997 may be more pro-business than before, MORI
research shows that Labour MPs are much more sceptical of how seriously
business takes its social responsibilities than their Conservative
This call to business was reinforced in Tony Blair’s recent speech to
the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. He said that:
’Government cannot achieve its aims without the energy and commitment of
others - voluntary organisations, business and, crucially, the wider
public.’ The Government today is increasingly looking to business to
help with schools, to raise money for books and computers, to involve
themselves with local anti-crime initiatives and to release staff as
Ministers and voters share a view of the social issues which matter and
on which business can make a valuable contribution. Education and
training, employment, health and welfare, environment and sustainable
development and crime come high on their mutual list of priorities.
Progressive companies now recognise that they have to stop talking about
’charitable giving’ and start to become actively involved in the
But many fail to make the connection internally between Government and
community relations, citing them under different managers in different
departments. Others however, like Lever Brothers and DHL, have brought
the two functions closely together, accurately reflecting the fact that
politicians are a keen audience for CCI activity that makes a real
Tesco’s Computers for Schools programme is another good example of
making the link between community and Government relations.
Business-friendly New Labour likes to be seen in the company of
forward-thinking business leaders who ’get things done’ and ministers
often use case studies to show their initiatives are working. But the
onus is on companies to let politicians know what is going on, both at a
local and national level, of relevance and interest to them. In some
cases, ministers and MPs will want to get actively involved.
CCI is not a shortcut to political favours. But it is a serious feature
in the social transaction and the ’Third Way’ the Government is keen to
foster. More companies need to display the sort of ’joined up thinking’
New Labour, leading NGOs and private sector innovators are already
Colin Byrne is chief executive of Shandwick Public Affairs.