Taskforce to build a compelling narrative for social change

Post author image. Lord Steve Bassam
Lord Steve Bassam, Business in the Community Place Director, writes of the call for evidence being undertaken by the newly formed Place Taskforce.

In May this year the Business in the Community (BITC) Community Leadership Board agreed to convene a taskforce to examine how best to use business insights to drive the changes that left behind towns and communities need to face in a post-COVID and post-Brexit world.

As BITC approaches its 40th anniversary in 2022 much thought has gone into how best to celebrate its work and keep the organisation relevant. Motivated originally by a mix of urban discontent and a desire by UK businesses to tackle poverty and discrimination in the communities they serve, BITC was born. The issues which disfigured and blighted our cities back in the 1980s persist. These include the gap between rich and poor, racism, unequal life chances, poor levels of educational attainment in some inner-city areas and a lack of social mobility. Add to the mix climate change, poor air quality and a decline in the quality of our public realm in some towns and cities and BITC’s to-do list seems to be getting longer as it begins its fifth decade.

The group will help marshal the arguments and sift the evidence to make a
compelling narrative for social change to bring out the best from business, government,
civic leadership and communities working together.

The case for sustained business interest in civic issues remains as strong today as it did back in 1982 when BITC began, despite much progress in the field of education, training, issues of race and urban decline. The UK can point to a turnaround in many of its cities, which are now seen as centres of success and achievement, where our higher educational institutions flourish and where there is far greater cultural diversity and endeavour. The focus has moved on to looking at the lost potential of our smaller towns and seaside communities where the decline of traditional industries and a lack of purpose or a USP (unique selling point) is felt most sharply.

BITC has set up a taskforce to examine what is next for its community engagement and its call to activism amongst its corporate supporters. The group will examine what has worked best in shifting the dial in left-behind communities and what needs to be done in the future. It will draw not just on BITC’s experiences but those of other organisations working to improve life chances and opportunities for all.

The objective of the new Place Taskforce is to produce a blueprint for business-led and inspired community transformation. The desire is to draw on the experience of BITC working in different places, but with a set of common issues. One of BITC’s success stories in terms of intervention is Blackpool, where a concerted effort bringing together local government, local businesses, community champions, educational institutions and corporate supporters has persuaded Government to release £40 million from its Town Deals fund to invest into the town.

The taskforce will highlight this approach and that adopted in other towns to make the case for business to help take a lead in many of the communities that government sees as being left behind. The levelling up agenda has long been on BITC’s radar and the enquiry will enable a closer look at the best way of tackling the issues that have blighted many of the UK’s small towns. Our ambition must be to bring investment and professional expertise into the service of changing places. No person, community, or place should ever be overlooked when we live in a world of infinite opportunity and possibilities.

It used to be said by our business partners in BITC where is your Wisbech?’ Now the call is ‘bring us your Blackpool’. We want to replicate the success of working in the town in all our pilots across the regions and nations of the UK. The Place Taskforce report to be published next spring will galvanise and inspire business interventions across the country to drive the next generation of business activists to help transform and level up people and places.

The Place Taskforce are starting with a ‘call for evidence’of what works. The call for evidence is targeted at BITC members, local councils, universities, the charity and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) sector and those working in places already. We will ask government too.

The taskforce will hear testimonies, receive reports, host roundtables, undertake visits, research and seek views from communities and activist groups. The report which it produces will be shaped by our expert Place Taskforce, supported by Ian Taylor from Oxford University’s Government Outcomes Laboratory, Lancaster University. The group will help marshal the arguments and sift the evidence to make a compelling narrative for social change to bring out the best from business, government, civic leadership and communities working together.

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