In my role as lord mayor, I lead business delegations to key international markets to strengthen commercial ties and promote Britain as one of the best places in which to invest and trade.
I am always struck by the positive perception of the UK as not only a good place to do business, but also as a place of “good business”. From Angola to Zambia and India to China, we are rightly seen as a country with high standards of corporate governance.
And as a nation we increasingly expect our businesses to do more for society, as employers and through charity and community work.
The Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, held at the Mansion House last week, recognise firms that do just that – celebrating responsible businesses which go beyond their normal work to have a positive social impact in London’s communities. Now in its twenty-ninth year, it is among the most established and distinguished business-community engagement awards in the UK.
This year’s applicants supported nearly 500,000 Londoners, creating over 14,500 jobs and investing over £10m in their communities and local enterprises. They mobilised an incredible 21,528 business volunteers, who gave over 110,000 hours of their time to community groups, disadvantaged Londoners and schools. I doubt very much if any other city in the world has such a wealth of energy, creativity and generosity of spirit.
These firms are an example of how the private sector can make a tremendous difference. They provide vital support – including free legal advice where provision has been cut, support for school children and parents where educational attainment has been low, and help for small businesses to grow and create new jobs for Londoners.
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And it is a two way street for London’s firms – a win-win situation. Responsible businesses are stronger, more sustainable and more relevant to society, giving them a competitive edge over their rivals. Their initiatives are an important investment in the workforce and the collective future of both London and the entire UK.
The best and the brightest want to work for responsible firms. Research has shown that the first questions asked in interviews by many talented young people are not about pay or lifestyle. Instead, they ask first about their prospective employer’s community work and broader values, a reflection of millennial priorities.
London is an international beacon of responsible business, and the projects we are celebrating through the Dragon Awards are among the best in the world.
One winner, Dentons law firm, has given over 10,000 hours of free legal advice over the last decade. It is impossible to measure the true value of this support – directly and indirectly – to the community in Tower Hamlets, but we know that beneficiaries have been saved nearly £5m in legal fees.
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Another winner, Transport for London, supported its suppliers to create over 4,500 apprenticeships and bring over 5,000 unemployed Londoners into jobs.
And it’s not all about big business. Assael Architecture won the SME Award for its Giving Something Back programme, which has an impressive 95 per cent staff participation rate. Those staff have donated 1,560 hours of their time, mentoring architecture students and young people, reviving a derelict playground and combatting isolation for 28 elderly and vulnerable people in the local area.
There are so many more stories like this, which we can bring to life and celebrate through the Dragon Awards.
Next year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Awards – an opportunity to reflect on terrific, transformative projects over the past three decades, and showcase those at the vanguard today. Applications open in Spring 2017 and I am calling on all London’s responsible businesses to apply. You are making a priceless investment in your workforce and our communities, and we want many others to be inspired by your sterling example.
Visit www.dragonawards.org.uk to apply.