Cbi North-East held its first Christmas debate last week, focused on how to improve trust in business.
The evidence shows that over the past 20 years, trust in business has continued to decline even though businesses are giving more money to charity, spending more time reporting on their corporate social responsibility activity and that regulation around corporate governance is much tighter.
The debate was led by CBI director general Richard Lambert, who said the loss of trust could be attributed to a number of factors, including a small number of unfortunate failures by business including Farepak and the impact of globalisation, meaning that business was less connected to the communities in which it operated.
Regional leaders from the public and private sector were invited to suggest how companies can work with stakeholders to restore lost confidence.
Overwhelmingly the audience voted for working with young people as the best way for business to restore trust. Other areas of interest included working more closely with the media to ensure positive coverage of business and getting business's own house in order with harder punishments for businesses or leaders of business that acted inappropriately.
Tackling this decline in trust is critical if business wants to recruit good people and to avoid further regulation.
If trust in business is low, government will feel compelled to legislate on commercial activity to ensure certainty for the public.
More regulation means greater cost to business and ultimately will result in lower competitiveness and a loss of jobs.
Furthermore, the Aspire campaign has demonstrated that young people in this region do not believe there are jobs available for them in the North-East and so it is our role as business to demonstrate that this is not the case. The debate identified the need to improve careers advice to help do this.
The conclusion was that communication is the key to trust. Better communication is required between businesses and their neighbouring communities, between businesses and schools and from the leaders of business to their employees.
Many businesses do this, but for others it is all too easy to talk about communicating rather than do it!