Andrew’s contribution to the ‘Business and Society’ debate

My Lords, when I began my work as a social entrepreneur in the East End of London 30 years ago, there was a clear perception that the public sector and charities were the good guys who do good to people and that business was for, and I quote, “greedy capitalist pigs”. Of course, many of us at that time had little, if any, real practical experience of working with business people. However, we read the Guardian and completed our university degrees and so we were experts.

As a clergyman, I am in the religion business, and the religion at that time was very clear and of a fundamentalist nature. Religion had moved out of the churches and on to the street, and its belief systems were firmly established in the public and charitable sectors. Over the past three decades, our understanding has changed. We have been led through the Common Purpose programmes of the 1990s into practical working relationships with the business community. We have come to know and respect many business people because they often know how to run things well. Many of us have formed business partnerships to deliver our programmes in local communities.

Today only 6% of the funding at the Bromley by Bow Centre, which I founded, comes through the state. The majority of our success stories are because we work in partnership with business. This week a £1.5 billion development programme has been announced in Silvertown Quays in the Royal Docks. With a good wind behind it, this programme could change the lives of one of the poorest communities in east London. I was invited to join the team and I am proud to be a member of this business consortium which I hope will transform this piece of London over the next decade and create hundreds of jobs. Here, of course, I must declare my two interests.

What does the future look like? I think we need to use the present financial crisis to create a new alignment. The state needs to create the conditions within which the business, social enterprise, and charitable sectors can work together. As a practitioner, I have to grapple every day with the insensitive bureaucracies and silos of government systems, and it is not getting any easier despite years of rhetoric from Ministers of every political persuasion. The real moral challenge to all our parties is not with business per se but with the state and its seeming inability to deliver at ground level.

We must have a more intelligent discussion about the size of these state institutions and how we enable each of them to work more easily with small and medium-sized enterprises. This is the real moral issue: size matters.