The conditions are there, it’s now up to retailers to make a difference.

The conditions are there, it’s now up to retailers to make a difference.

I recently returned from a business trip to America and was struck again by its ‘can do’ approach.

I sometimes wish we could learn how to be more like this ourselves. 

Perhaps our culture is more cynical but we are often slow to recognise and celebrate the good. The Budget was a case in point. The abiding memory is of the ‘charities tax’ and ‘pasty tax’. But I believe that does a disservice to the broad thrust of a set of measures that will be in this country’s long-term interest.

The Chancellor and his team deserve some credit for providing a platform for business to flourish. From the outset this Government has recognised that business must play a crucial role in national recovery – and not simply in terms of economic activity. Recent research for Business in the Community showed that a sample of 37 companies – many in retail – invested £750m in good causes over the last four years.

That is the difference that good business can make to our nation. Recently the Prime Minister, speaking at a Business in the Community event, made the point when he said business “is the most powerful force for social progress that the world has ever known”, adding: “It can help us to smash poverty, to raise horizons, to drive the innovations, products and services that make our lives better, longer and happier. And it can help to build bigger and stronger societies.”

Businesses can be a much greater force for good when they are doing well – and that’s where Government comes in. I like to see it as a contract. The Government does what it can to create the best environment for business to flourish and in return business plays its part through practical support for the most disadvantaged communities. 

It is a contract that I know British business wants to honour. Through Business in the Community I see remarkable examples of companies making a huge difference for the better. 

Enlightened businesses realise that to be the best they can, we need strong and healthy communities – and they have a role to play in building them. Top of our priority list is helping young people into work, whether through supporting in the classroom with our ‘business class’ initiative or giving a taste of work through the ‘work inspiration’ programme.

But most of all we want to help the 1.5 million under-25s who are out of education and work to find a job. We must do all we can to prevent them becoming a lost generation. It is bad for the economy, but it is also a human tragedy we have a duty to address.

That’s why it is so important that SMEs are given every assistance because often they are the driving force behind economic renewal and the source of new jobs. Treasury plans to reduce bureaucracy, simplify taxation and improve research and development tax credits will help, as will the planned programme of enterprise loans to help young people set up and grow their own business.

Blind optimism is not particularly sensible and ignores the pain that many are experiencing. But why don’t we take a leaf out of the Americans’ book and see the glass half full. 

The Budget has created the conditions whereby British business should flourish. Now it is the turn of business to play its part. If we do it well and fulfil our side of the contract, we can make the whole difference not just to our GDP, but to the lives of everyone in this country.

  • Mark Price is managing director of Waitrose