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lessons from my first year as CSR minister

February 2001

Companies have a key role in regenerating deprived communities. Dr Kim Howells outlines some practical ways in which they can become involved

Last March I was appointed as UK minister for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Very quickly, I started to receive a host of invitations from businesses who wanted to tell me about their CSR activities. Meeting them has made two things clear to me.

First, that there is a tremendous enthusiasm within businesses to work with their local communities, but that this energy and creativity often goes unrecognised and unappreciated. Second, these meetings have shown me that CSR must be a business-led agenda. If Government adopts an overly prescriptive approach, it could easily stifle the enthusiasm and variety that business can bring to CSR.

There are, however, two key themes that I am particularly keen to promote. First of these is the role businesses can play in education, especially in improving adult basic skills and in addressing the specific skills gaps which are stifling growth and development in some key sectors.

Many businesses are already involved in education partnerships. Business can provide a wide range of support to enhance the links between themselves and our schools, colleges and universities. By improving the quality of education and training they will be helping themselves and the wider community. The whole economy will benefit and individuals will find their employment prospects greatly improved.

Businesses can provide support to educational projects in many different ways. One of these is staff volunteering. The Government attaches great importance to the role which volunteers play in the community. Last year, for example, the prime minister launched the Active Communities Challenge. He challenged employers to give employees the equivalent of a day's paid time to volunteer.

Businesses can sign up to the Challenge, either via Business in the Community, or by visiting the web site at www.corpcommunityinvestment.org.uk.

Involvement in promoting basic skills and improving life-long learning and training is also central to the regeneration and development of enterprise in deprived communities. This is my second key theme. Many businesses in the US have invested in deprived communities and actively sought employees from socially excluded groups. They have benefited commercially from this engagement and I would be very pleased to see more UK businesses follow their example.

Later this year, I intend to publish a report which will illustrate some of what Government is doing to promote CSR. It will celebrate examples of business action that has benefited both society at large and the companies involved. All of this will underline that CSR is a key component of mainstream business competitiveness.




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