We talked to James Durie, the Director of Business West and the Chamber of Commerce and Initiative about why he signed the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and how this fits into their other work in the business community in the South West.
For James joining the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative “felt consciously part of what we do… a sense that it is just naturally part of what we should do to constantly think about these issues… we can think and act and try and encourage people to act in certain ways and to think about their actions. But also for the victims, to give them that sense of confidence that these are issues that shouldn’t be hidden, it should come out into the open and be dealt with properly.”
Business West are a business leadership organisation representing and working with over 18,000 businesses across the South West as the local access point for business support. Therefore, they have a significant influence in the region and are also a large organisation in their own right which means that their support for Bristol Zero Tolerance has an important impact. As James comments “we employ about 190 staff many of whom are female, so we as an organisation are fully committed to the pledge in terms of what it is and we are now working with the team about how we more consciously work on some of these agendas and talk to our staff. And then in terms of what we do – which is about voice and resource and an organisation who is trying to speak for the business community and work with small to large businesses, particularly on the groundwork with lots of small businesses to help them to grow, to survive, to thrive, to set up a business – to make sure that appropriately we can communicate that this is what the Bristol business community is committed to supporting. So making sure that they are aware that there is a pledge and what is behind it.”
Business West have already been working with Unseen raising awareness about modern day slavery and how this impacts on businesses in terms of links in their supply chains. They have also been supporting organisations working with asylum seekers to give people opportunities as part of the Bristol City of Sanctuary project. This is all part of their work to meet the needs of businesses but also reflect the local population which includes increasing minority communities. This diversity has been celebrated through initiatives such as the 91 Ways To Build a Global City and the International Peace Café which gained national recognition. As James says “working is part of a sustainable life” and it is important to connect people to understand their differences and similarities. The Business West Initiative group of business leaders also have a charitable trust who support local organisations and have worked on a variety of projects.
For James the vision of Bristol as a Zero Tolerance City will impact on all communities including the business community “I think it’s a city that consciously recognises that these are significant issues that actually people need to be aware of… and from the business community, businesses are aware that Bristol is [doing this] consciously, and the communities within Bristol are aware of it and people feel empowered at whatever level they are to come forward, and I think that there’s a sense of confidence that they will be taken seriously and that there are people out there that can professionally help and assist within the criminal justice system and the police service locally etc. That this is taken very seriously.”
This also fits in to James’ vision for businesses, “as the Chambers of Commerce and the main business organisation in the city, particularly through our Initiative Leadership Team, this has enabled [us as a] business to think longer and wider, to think about the social side of the city as well as the economic fabric… beyond being profitable and successful at employing people, [businesses] have got a right and a responsibility to take a wider interest and to think about looking after people in a basic sense. And I think this seems to be a very positive step to help to do that.”
In terms of supporting Bristol Zero Tolerance James is very enthusiastic “I think we want to be positively involved… beyond our own staff I think the greatest role we can have is to try and raise awareness because we are the connecting point into businesses in terms of our members and to lots of businesses beyond, and we also play a role within the city and the city region bringing together all the different business groups particularly under the Local Enterprise Partnership. So therefore we have a ‘bigger tent’ and there are many businesses that want to engage in local agendas.” In terms of the support that Business West can offer Bristol Zero Tolerance this is “largely on the awareness side but also if there are some good practices that we ought to be thinking about both adopting ourselves and then encouraging others to adopt… so that it is embedded in existing processes and policies.” As he noted “consciously talking about these things rather than reacting to events is important.”
James admitted that engaging businesses may be a challenge as 90% of businesses are small and “many of those are busy just keeping their business going, keeping their heads above water, and I think this needs to be available and highlighted to them in the right place and in the right way but also just giving them a sense that there is a range of support, and this is just a connection point through to some of that support if and when required.” As he notes “it’s a harder ask than something soft and light and fluffy that people will naturally be drawn to, these are serious matters.”