My Lords, when I first came into this House I was asked by the then chief executive of Business in the Community to try to encourage Members of Parliament to engage more locally with businesses that were actively benefiting society both in the constituencies where they worked and more widely. I declare an interest because I still co-chair the All-Party Group on Corporate Responsibility. We know that in this country there are many responsible and dedicated businesses that flourish in constituencies across the country. In 2015 we decided we would like to introduce the responsible business champions scheme, supported now by National Grid, because we wanted to build better recognition, inside and outside Parliament, of the immense force for good in our communities that so many UK companies present. In particular we wanted to encourage Members of Parliament to look closely at the overall impact local companies are having in each constituency.
Each year we invite Members of Parliament to nominate a local company of their choice as their responsible business champion. This accolade goes to them because of the outstanding contribution they make to their constituency. We have a parliamentary judging panel, which chooses a single national responsible business champion from among the companies that MPs nominate. A representative of every company nominated by an MP attends an annual reception we hold for them. We were lucky to have the Speaker for the first year of this scheme, which has gone from strength to strength since 2015, with the number of nominations from MPs doubling every year. I hope this will continue until most MPs select a constituency champion.
Our first two national champions—London City Airport and a small company, Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd—could hardly be more different, but they share an important commitment to their workforce and local communities. London City Airport was nominated by Stephen Timms MP, a former Corporate Responsibility Minister. It was an exemplar of corporate responsibility and he cited its investment in the local community, its commitment to providing pathways into work for unemployed residents, its work with schools and universities, and its work with West Ham United Football Club to promote healthy lifestyles.
David Davies MP nominated Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd, telling us that “fairness, inclusion and respect” were central to its business approach. This was borne out by the facts we were given about its working practices, relationships with suppliers and the strong support it gave to its local community. It stood out because of the support for equality and diversity it has demonstrated, particularly its support for older workers, which we especially wanted to encourage and celebrate last year.
Scores of companies have been nominated by their MPs since the award was introduced. There is not time to tell noble Lords about more than a handful, but a few might interest you. We heard about the fantastic work being done on inclusion by Marks & Spencer in Basingstoke from Maria Miller MP, and on apprentices and training by Manchester Airports Group from Mike Kane MP. Last year the judges were very pleased that two very small companies deserved to be included on our award shortlist. We admired the way that Kelvin Hair, nominated by Patrick Grady MP, and West & Coe Funeral Directors Ltd, nominated by Jon Cruddas MP, support their local communities so strongly. West & Coe—Dagenham’s oldest business—provides not just a counselling and befriending service, but generous support for local sporting activities, the Queen’s theatre in Hornchurch and the local hospice. Patrick Grady praised Kelvin Hair’s “excellent contribution” to the local community, its commitment to fair working practices and the support it gives to training and other local SMEs.
In 2016 the judges commended highly Port of Blyth, nominated for a second year by Ronnie Campbell MP, which plays a fundamental role in the local community. Anglian Water—nominated by my co-chair on the All-Party Group, Jonathan Djanogly—is known to us all as a leader in the fields of workplace health and well-being, and for the sustainable business practice it offers. Xiros Ltd, nominated by Greg Mulholland MP, is another outstanding company. Anglian Water has now emerged as BITC’s company of the year. The judges also commended the deep social investment in the local community made by Canary Wharf Group. Jim Fitzpatrick MP was eloquent in drawing our attention to the efforts it has made to ensure that its developments open the widest possible economic opportunity to people living in the surrounding areas, and its transformative work extending education and employment opportunities in its local area.
Canary Wharf Group was unlucky not to win our national award last year and the same could be said for Zurich Insurance, nominated by the Swindon MPs, Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson. This is clearly an excellent company as well. Not only is it very supportive of its local community, but the judges were impressed by its commitment to promoting a healthy workplace and encouraging diversity and equality.
This year our responsible business champions scheme was disrupted by the general election, but we have since relaunched it, writing to all the newly elected MPs encouraging them to nominate a constituency responsible business champion. This year we have tweaked the criteria for our national award to favour those companies that are doing their bit to help the UK reach the Government’s target of halving the disability employment gap. I am confident that we will once again receive inspiring nominations telling us about the fantastic work on inclusion that companies across the country are doing. I look forward to celebrating that with them at our responsible business champions reception in November.