IGN Insights

Engaging businesses in employment charter development

Centre for Progressive Policy Danielle Jackson square 2023 07 13 133207 stdj

Danielle Jackson

Head of Inclusive Growth Network

I5 - masthead

Across the IGN, there is a clear recognition of the role of businesses in delivering local inclusive growth. A number of member places have developed employer charters in recent years, including Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and North of Tyne, to name a few. They are a particularly effective tool that combined and local authorities can use to support inclusive growth, by using their soft and convening power to engage businesses in the city region or place to encourage good business practices. These charters often focus specifically on employment, but some go further to influence areas such as how and where businesses spend money, their impact on the environment and their role in local communities.

An innovative approach currently being explored by South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority follows the same principles and looks to incentivise good business practices by setting social value focused criteria on finance and funding.

Strong business voice and input is crucial for a charter approach to work, requiring active and long-term engagement with businesses. Here are five reflections:

  1. Genuine co-design and co-development is needed. Engagement should be broad and deep. This can’t just be a tick box exercise. It is important to involve businesses and take them on the journey. A working group of major businesses can steer the development of the charter and provide useful challenge. This also means that the charter has advocates and early adopters when it is launched.
  2. Language is important. Words can mean different things to people in different sectors and types of organisations. Take the phrase ‘good work’ as an example. What defines work being ‘good’ – is this about rewards, flexibility, stability? Take the time to test these concepts with businesses to reach agreed definitions. Developing a charter is about developing something simple that can easily be put into practice. Avoid policy jargon and over technical language, and instead use ‘plain English’ with precise and clear definitions.
  3. Commitments or pledges should be specific and focused. Businesses have said ‘tell us what you want us to do’. It should be easy for businesses to meet the commitments. This means they need to be practical, measurable and flexible to the size and type of business. They should be linked to the evidence to demonstrate how meeting them can address specific challenges in a place, improving the quality of life of residents and making the local economy more inclusive.
  4. A clear offer is as important as clear asks – there need to be benefits to businesses signing up. The positive impacts of operating in a different way, whether this is through higher staff retention or increased productivity, need to be articulated to businesses. Businesses should be offered support through the application process, and once they have signed up, there should be advice, support, resources and networking opportunities available.
  5. Be understanding. Businesses are facing multiple challenges – ongoing changes as a result of leaving the EU, the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain delays, labour and skills shortages, and increasing costs and energy prices. Businesses understand the need for our economy to work in a different way, but this is just one of many things they have to think about on a daily basis. Being mindful of the various (often competing) demands on businesses and sympathetic to these challenges is crucial to codeveloping a charter that works.