Stephen Byers: Increasing Britain’s competitiveness

Stephen Byers

 

Posted in: Policy & Research, Speaking Out

Stephen Byers: Increasing Britain’s competitiveness

December 01, 1999

With the DTI now given responsibility for policy on the ‘new vision’ for business, here the secretary of state says why corporate responsibility matters.

DTI’s role in encouraging high and stable economic growth is well known. It is also increasingly understood that enterprise and fairness go together and that social justice and wealth creation are two sides of the same coin.

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DTI’s role in encouraging high and stable economic growth is well known. It is also increasingly understood that enterprise and fairness go together and that social justice and wealth creation are two sides of the same coin.

Company reputation and brand value no longer depend just on quality and price. How goods are produced and sourced are now all part of the equation. It can take years to build reputation. But as some know to their cost, reputation can be lost overnight.

Company Law has a contribution to make on some of these issues. The independent Company Law Review is considering these questions both in the context of the duties of company directors and in terms of the information which companies should be required to disclose in their annual reports. I look forward to seeing the Review’s final report in 2001. The government is committed to modernising the framework of company law to reflect fully the needs of a modern sustainable economy.

We still too often hear the view that when the chips are down, investors will insist on preserving the bottom line, maintaining dividends. Happily, this short term view is being challenged as bad for the long term sustainability of business. I therefore welcome the fact that some financial institutions and fund managers are recognising this – not just the ethical funds, but mainstream investments portfolios as well.

Of course none of this is a substitute for enlightened, innovative, entrepreneurial management. Such managers will always attract investors and often these are the ones who are leading the way on sustainable development. In fact sustainable development is becoming an integral part of my Department’s policy development and implementation across the board, from energy through consumer affairs to international trade.

That is why I have announced that from January, applications to the Export Credit Guarantee Department will be subject to environmental screening. It is clearly only right that environmental concerns are taken into account in deciding whether to offer support from British taxpayers.

Government needs to set the framework under which firms can go out and maximise profit. But that framework must be set so that activities which damage the environment are discouraged and those that promote jobs, enterprise and innovation encouraged. The future lies in a mixture of measures – voluntary, economic and where necessary through regulation. The challenge for us in government is to work in partnership with business and civil society in a way which delivers progress.

Stephen Byers became secretary of state for trade and industry in December 1998, following Peter Mandelson’s resignation. Seen as a rising ‘Blairite’ star, he was elected to Parliament in 1992 as MP for North Tyneside, and became opposition spokesman on education and employment in 1995 after a year in the whips’ office. Aged 45, he was previously a senior lecturer in law, having been educated at Chester City Grammar School and Liverpool Polytechnic. From 1980 to 1992, he was a member of North Tyneside Council, serving as deputy leader from 1986.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 49 – December, 1999

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