Going places: Community should be at the heart of any modern business

Katy Taylor of transport company the Go-Ahead Group discusses how the lives of its passengers can be improved by its involvement in Business in the Community's Place campaign

What role should a modern business play in the community? Is it enough to provide the public with a superb product that satisfies demand? Or is there a wider responsibility to participate in civic life?

These are questions that the corporate sector has grappled with for more than a decade – and it is clear that the public, rightly, expects those in business to be good citizens in a way that extends beyond their economic footprint. 

A study by Deloitte1 last year asked millennials what businesses should try to achieve. The top answer, cited by 43 per cent of respondents, was to generate jobs and provide employment. But a close second, on 39 per cent, was to “improve society” – including educating, informing and promoting health or wellbeing.

It’s in that context that Business in the Community (BITC) has launched Responsible Business in Action – a group of initiatives spanning themes ranging from the environment to diversity.

Under that umbrella is the BITC Place campaign – aimed specifically at building trust between business and society. The campaign, which began recently and will continue for three years, aims to bring together businesses and their neighbours in communities across the United Kingdom.

My own company, Go-Ahead Group, understands social inclusion only too well – we operate bus and rail services that connect towns and cities across the UK. In some locations, our buses are the only links for people who would otherwise be isolated from work, education, healthcare and town centres.

Projects being pursued by Go-Ahead include trialling bus services: an on-demand pilot called PickMeUp, in Oxford, which allows residents to summon a bus to the nearest street corner; and an air filtering bus, in Southampton, which sucks particulate pollution out of the air, leaving the air cleaner behind it than in front of it.

Our bus and train companies have local brands and management teams that understand, and are able to respond quicker to the needs of the communities where we operate. We provide free bus tickets for people travelling to job interviews. We invest more than £18m annually in training and developing staff, and almost £1m in community investment initiatives across the country, working alongside charities such as Railway Children and Transaid supporting young people who might be at risk on the transport network.

I am passionate about the role of public transport in underpinning social, economic and environmental value in communities. I’m proud that, as an employer, we pay everybody the living wage, that we have a board of directors split 50-50 between men and women, that we offer high-quality apprenticeships and that we’ve taken measures to ensure that our workforce is as diverse as it can possibly be.

To ensure that everybody’s needs are addressed, we work with Dementia Friends on staff training, and with the RNIB on issues faced by blind and partially sighted people. We’ve introduced a Helping Hand card that people with hidden disabilities can show to bus drivers to give those with the greatest need the freedom to travel.

Fundamental to all this is the fact buses are often used by the least affluent in our communities and those for whom access to healthcare, employment and education are critical. Go-Ahead has been campaigning for a national bus strategy – which would not only create a framework to halt the erosion of local bus routes but would also incentivise councils to promote, support and give buses the priority they need on congested roads. Not everybody, after all, can afford a car, or is able to cycle.

Drawing on experience from these initiatives, Go-Ahead has come together with a number of well-known companies for the Place campaign. So, what will the campaign entail? It has three simple goals: to improve understanding, to innovate and to scale upwards. 

By linking organisations together, the campaign will facilitate the exchange of ideas and information, so that we all have a better bank of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t. Through trials of specific tactics, it will try out new concepts and evaluate how they benefit different communities. And by creating a bigger pool of participants, the campaign will take modestly sized programmes and expand them to work on a greater scale. 

The Go-Ahead Group, which now enables more than a billion public transport journeys a year around the world, began in 1987 as a bus company in Gateshead. We are determined to remain as closely connected to the lives of our passengers and their communities as we were when we were a local business with just a handful of buses.

Katy Taylor is Commercial and Customer Director of the Go-Ahead Group and is a member of BITC's Place Leadership Team

References

  1. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019. Available at Deloitte.com