BUSINESSES ? and the people who work in them – are being urged to put some of their profits back into the communities in which they operate.
The call comes from Peter Marks, Chief Executive of United Co-operatives, the UK's largest regional co-operative society, which has an annual turnover of nearly £ 2 billion.
"All business, large and small, have a social responsibility to the communities in which they operate. And I would ask all businesses to look closely at what they can do to make their contribution to building a better region," said Mr Marks at the society's Charitable Foundation Awards Night in Rochdale, the birthplace of the modern Co-operative Movement.
United Co-operatives' Charitable Foundation has awarded more than £ 560,000 to community groups and individuals across the North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands in the past year. This brings the total amount awarded by the Foundation to more than £ 1 million since its inception in 2000.
Mr Marks said: "This has only been possible because, over the past 10 years, the society has been generating enough profit to back up the fine words of our community strategy with the money needed to make it a reality."
But he was critical of other businesses and their lack of support for community projects.
He said: "Despite some huge regeneration projects in the region over the past few years, Greater Manchester still features prominently in the Government's indices of deprivation."
Mr Marks said he was shocked when he learned that less than four per cent of businesses in the UK donate any funds at all to good causes.
He said: "We hope that those businesses which are in the 96 per cent who are not yet part of that process will join us. This really is a case of the more, the merrier.
"Businesses like United Co-operatives have a social responsibility to ensure that funding gets to the areas that need it most. Only in this way can we help build confidence in our communities, help develop self-esteem among our young people and engender trust between the communities we serve and our wider social objectives."
Over the past few years United Co-operatives has given £ 5.4 million to its own Co-operative Charitable Foundation. And, at the recent awards night at Rochdale Town Hall, the society honoured employees who have championed the fund-raising cause.
Formal presentations were also made to some of the dozens of community groups and individuals from across United's trading area who have received Foundation grants.
The Co-operative Charitable Foundation's patron, Lord Morris of Manchester, said in a special message read at the awards evening: "Since its formation, the Foundation has made considerable progress in helping meet the wide-ranging social need which has gone unheeded by others. While there is still much unmet need in local communities, the Foundation is becoming better known with every passing month and is attracting more and more applications for help.
"The challenge for the Foundation now is to identify more deserving groups and individuals who are able to make the best use of the help we can give."
Society President Bill Hoult, who also paid tribute to the fund-raising efforts of the society's employees, and to the work of the Co-operative Charitable Foundation, announced that Christie Hospital in Manchester and Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield would jointly be the society's Charity of the Year for 2004-05.
He said: "In the next 12 months or so, we will be raising a minimum of £ 150,000 to be shared between two of the best cancer hospitals in the country, in order to help them with their important work. This current boost to two excellent charities comes on top of the well over £ 1 million which we have raised over the past decade for charities as diverse as the NSPCC, Macmillan Cancer Relief, the British Heart Foundation and a number of children's hospices."