Trust in business has taken quite a knocking in recent years. The shock of the recession and a series of high profile scandals have undermined public confidence. In this article Andy Bagnall, Director of Campaigns at the CBI, explains why we need a Great Business Debate, and calls on people to get involved and have their say.                                                      

“Business doesn’t get it. It doesn’t care about us.” That’s a sentiment we’ve all seen expressed in the papers and on TV quite a lot over the last few years, and it’s one that companies of all shapes and sizes tell the CBI they are increasingly concerned about.

And for good reason. Earlier this year we asked YouGov to help us look into the public’s opinions on business, and what we found made pretty sobering reading.

  • Only 1/3 think the majority of British business behaves ethically
  • Only half think business makes a positive contribution to society
  • Two-thirds say that industry-specific scandals have impacted on their confidence in business as a whole

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.  Business hasn’t always got things right, and in the years since the recession, the contribution it makes to all our lives has been brought into question. Negative stories about business continue to make the headlines at a time when public expectations are rising, and companies have not always responded quickly enough to address the concerns many people have.

This lack of public confidence represents a challenge for us all. Ultimately, our prosperity as a country is closely linked to the success of business. Up and down the country it is businesses that are generating wealth, supporting jobs, serving customers, and strengthening society. As Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster said in a recent article: “A thriving business sector, with people finding fulfilment through productive work at the service of wider society is vitally important. Business and society need each other.”

But business cannot realise its full potential when people don’t see the value it creates for the UK. If businesses do not have the confidence of the people they employ and the trust of the customers they serve then they will not prosper in the long run.

The business community knows it must do more to engage with the on-going conversation about its role and contribution.  This means speaking up about the positive contribution it makes, addressing issues people are concerned about, and demonstrating that it is responding to the public mood.

That’s why the CBI has recently launched The Great Business Debate, focused on building public confidence in business. Through the campaign we are setting out the facts and combatting myths about what business does and the contribution it makes – there is a good story to tell about the contribution of business to the UK. But we are also looking to address some of the big issues people are talking about: how much tax business pays, what businesses are doing to support those employees on the lowest wages, and whether companies are doing enough for consumers.

As part of this debate we are actively seeking people’s views on business and where it needs to do more. At the same time we are providing an opportunity for companies to take part in a constructive conversation about what they do and how they do it. As readers of the IPA bulletin will know, employee engagement has an important role to play when it comes to building trust. That’s why we’re encouraging companies of all shapes and sizes to involve their employees in The Great Business Debate too.

Through doing this we want to develop a shared understanding over time about what more businesses can do to address people’s concerns and ultimately shift the dial when it comes to public confidence.

All of us our touched by business in some shape or form, and everyone has a stake in The Great Business Debate. From our perspective, the more people and organisations we have involved the better. As a starter for ten, I’d encourage you to take a look at our website,, and follow us on twitter @bizdebate. If you would like further information about the campaign you can get in touch with us directly at [email protected].


Andy Bagnall is Director of Campaigns at the CBI, explains why we need a Great Business Debate