Eurotunnel is in the news, having completed the Channel Tunnel, but what of its community programme?
The Channel Tunnel, one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever attempted, is finally due to open on May 6. The dream of a fixed link between England and France goes back to the last century, but work only began seriously in 1986 when the governments of the two countries awarded Eurotunnel a 55 year concession to construct and operate a rail tunnel.
Built into Eurotunnel’s bid for the concession were extensive environmental and community involvement commitments. As a completely new company, Eurotunnel had to establish a community programme from scratch, a ‘green field’ programme to match its green field construction, literally – the entrances to the tunnel at both ends involved extensive building in sensitive environmental locations, with all the accompanying disruption to local communities.
Eurotunnel is also a unique bi-national company, with separate companies quoted on the Paris and London stock exchanges, sharing costs and revenues equally. Fascinating differences have emerged about British and French attitudes to corporate community involvement.
Immediately the go-ahead was given, information centres were set up in Folkstone and Calais in a matter of weeks. Full consultation with the local community started, between the company and local authorities, environmental groups, members of the public and other interested parties. From this, clear differences emerged about the economic, social and cultural life of Kent and the Nord Pas-de-Calais, with correspondingly different concerns.
In the UK, these centred upon the environment, quality of life and transport congestion. In France, local authorities in particular were worried about increasingly high long-term unemployment and, to a lesser extent, also about the environment. Only after this period of consultation were community involvement projects set up, developing gradually over the years since then. Today Eurotunnel’s main areas of involvement are enterprise, environment, and education, largely focused on the local community.
Enterprise and jobs
While many of the concerns are similar, the differences of approach at either end of the tunnel are most marked over enterprise and economic issues. Both communities were worried about the need for long term jobs and hoped to use the development potential of the tunnel. Eurotunnel’s emphasis has been on joint initiatives and on providing pump-priming finance, in which donation of staff time, skills and resources has an important part to play. In Britain, voluntary organisations have taken on the role that in France official bodies, such as the statutory chambers of commerce in particular, undertake. The French government set up Project de Grand Chantier to co-ordinate all economic activities. State-funded training was provided to ensure that 90% of the new jobs were filled by recruits from the local area. Workers are also offered complete retraining at the end of the construction.
In the UK, the lack of formal structures required a more voluntary approach, working in partnership with agencies such as the Kent TEC, the East Kent Initiative and the East Kent Business Centre. Eurotunnel has provided grant funding and support at executive level; for example Sir Alastair Morton chairs Kent TEC.
It was inevitable that the tunnel’s construction would have considerable impact on the environment, so environmental policies formed an integral part of the construction programme. In contrast to the jobs issue, where French requirements were the most stringent, on the environment, obligations were greater at the English end. In 1985, a 3,000 page Environmental Impact Assessment, the first of its kind ever produced under a European Community Directive (then in draft form), set out the basis of Eurotunnel’s environmental policy. This was followed by detailed baseline studies and discussion with environmental groups. In 1987 a policy statement was issued, summarising the company’s aims. A programme of monitoring and management is now in operation in and around construction sites.
In addition to these operational concerns, community issues included the creation of nature trails and enhanced opportunities for walkers. Eurotunnel has worked in partnership with local authorities and conservation groups to create and support the White Cliffs Countryside Project.
At the outset, the company’s concern was to provide information about activities and future plans, hence the exhibition centres which have proved hugely popular. But in England it was soon found that the most enthusiastic visitors were from schools and that the tunnel represented an ideal context for learning. In 1987, Eurotunnel, in partnership with the Kent County Education Service, set up the Channel Tunnel Curriculum Development Project to prepare educational material based on the tunnel. Experienced teachers were directly employed to ensure a genuine education programme, meeting the demands of the national curriculum. The Project has produced 22 publications, estimated to have reached 2 million pupils in Britain. Over 100,000 school children a year visit the exhibition centres on both sides of the channel, which offer practical workshops and other educational activities.
The involvement of the local French schools and colleges has been more limited, although geography resource materials have now been drawn up and approved for use in schools in both countries.
These differences in approach are epitomised by the Le Walk venture. Held in February, this is a perfect example of that most British charitable fundraising tool, the sponsored walk. Coordinated by the Children’s Society and promoted by the Daily Mail, a team of volunteers from some forty national charities are walking dry-foot the 50 kilometres from France to England for the first time since the land mass separated millions of years ago. They hope to raise many thousands of pounds for good causes. But it is a one-way walk. No equivalent French team is walking the other way; there will be no mid-point meeting of the two country’s voluntary sectors. Indeed the French probably view the British as a little mad!
These differences are also reflected in the organisation of community relations. In Folkestone, a team of eight people report to the public affairs manager, including three teachers, a local environmental issues manager and a specialist community affairs manager. The staff in the exhibition centre are additional to this. On the French side, the team is separately organised and about half the size. The small charitable donations programme is also concentrated largely on local groups on the English side. However the limited arts sponsorship programme is on a par, with a joint cross-channel programme, although some British sponsorships are moving away from ‘high’ culture to concentrate more on the amateur and local.
Among corporate community involvement professionals, there is long-standing debate about the “business case”, comparing commercial benefits, social responsibility and philanthropy. Eurotunnel is a company which proves the business case. Securing the “licence to operate” required a commitment to the community, literally as part of the government operating agreement. Retaining it requires continued good neighbourliness. For Eurotunnel, community involvement is essential for the company’s commercial success.
Now the hectic construction phase is drawing to a close, the company will settle down with a stable workforce. Employee issues will start to loom larger, offering the chance to build a ‘green field’ employee community involvement programme too. One distinctive feature is the works council, a legal requirement in France and so mirrored on a voluntary basis in England. Will this develop a role in community relations?
The size of the programme in relation to profits will also arise, once revenue is being earned and a percentage of profits yardstick can be calculated (Eurotunnel is already a member of the Per Cent Club as a pointer for the future). The education, environmental and enterprise programmes will need to be adjusted as they mature. On education in particular, there are plans to establish the exhibition centre as a independent charity, expanding its educational remit.
These issues having been settled, the question will arise whether Eurotunnel has a role on the wider European stage. A company with a foot in two countries, whose business is connecting people together, must be at the heart of the new integrated Europe. As CCI practice becomes more harmonised, Eurotunnel will be called upon to exercise a leadership role and must surely answer yes, within the constraints of modesty imposed by being a small company. So for the future, a great responsibility will be placed on the community affairs team to build a programme that stands the highest external comparison.
Year ended 31 December 1992
Co-Chairmen: Andr? B?nard KBE and Sir Alastair Morton
Main business: the design, financing, construction and operation of tunnel between England and France under a Concession from the two governments due to expire in 2052
Turnover & profit: not yet relevant
Assets: £6.9 billion
FT UK Top 500 ranking: 106
Total community contribution: £600,000
% of profits: not yet meaningful
Memberships: BITC, Per Cent Club, ABSA
Public Affairs Manager: Lord Berkeley
Address: Eurotunnel Exhibition Centre, St Martin’s Plain, Folkestone, Kent CT19 4QD
Phone: 0303 270111 (fax: 0303 270212)
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 14 – February, 1994