Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


second stint for Timms may revive profile of CSR

September 2007

Stephen Timms has become the UK’s CSR minister for a second time, raising hopes that the post will regain some of the importance it has lost in the past three years.

Timms, who resumed the role in the first cabinet reshuffle of Gordon Brown’s premiership, is widely regarded as the most effective and enthusiastic of the six ministers to have held the post since it was created in 2000.

After he was shifted from the job in 2004, the prominence of corporate responsibility within the government diminished, and the last two incumbents – Malcolm Wicks and more recently Margaret Hodge – introduced no major initiatives.

Timms’s brief embraces business investment, competitiveness, small businesses and e-commerce, but he is also known to be personally interested in corporate responsibility and SRI. In his previous tenure between early 2002 and late 2004 he created the now ailing CSR Academy, a government-sponsored body offering corporate responsibility skills training. He also produced a global framework that committed Britain to become a pioneer in the field and signed a bilateral agreement on CSR with Italy. As pensions minister in 2000 he introduced a disclosure regulation requiring pension funds to state their SRI stance.

Timms, MP for East Ham in London, held a cabinet position as chief secretary to the Treasury before his recent move. He has also been minister for pensions reform, financial secretary to the Treasury for two terms, and school standards minister.

Before becoming an MP in 1994 he worked for 15 years in the telecommunications and computing industry, first for Logica and then for Ovum. He is a patron of the Christian Socialist Movement.

Timms has already emphasized that he will not take a regulatory approach, stating recently that ‘the strength of the corporate social responsibility movement is that it is business-led’.

His post is in the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which has replaced the Department of Trade and Industry. The new ministry will have joint responsibility with the Department for International Development on trade policy and will work jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to support UK companies trading internationally. Both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development have taken a greater interest in CSR during the past year.

Halina Ward, director of the Business and Sustainable Development Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said that making competitiveness and corporate social responsibility part of the same ministerial brief ‘sends positive signals to business’. She added: ‘What we really need is a government commitment to corporate responsibility that recognizes the importance of eradicating the worst forms of exploitative business behaviour, not only of encouraging good behaviour. We need to make harmful business practices uncompetitive – not just make good practice competitive.’

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