By Maximilian Clarke

Large corporations are being excluded from the Big Society drive to the detriment of the policy, John Cridland- Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)- has said.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at last week’s Conservative Party Conference, Cridland observed that big firms often feel unwelcome when attempting to engage with the Big Society. Robert Ashton, a prominent social entrepreneur, however, suggests their involvement is vital to the scheme's survival.

"It seems business is very welcome to the table as long as it is a small business, a social enterprise or a mutual," said Cridland. "If you’re a large company, I’m not sure any political parties at the moment are saying you’re welcome."

Parliamentary social enterprise advisor Robert Ashton argues that the CBI is incorrect, and that the success of the Big Society is dependent on the involvement of large companies.

“Big business buying into the social enterprise model is the way forward for everyone,” said Mr Ashton, who is also a successful social entrepreneur.

“Businesses of all sizes actually add value to their products by introducing a social enterprise model to their trading. Look at the number of spring water retailers who are including donations to third world irrigation schemes as part of the sales campaigning. If the public have a choice they chose the product with added meaning,” he said.

Mr Ashton went on to say that he was currently working with EOS Energy - one of the UK’s fastest growing solar power installers - to add value to their services by donating 4% of the installation costs of photovoltaic arrays to the charities who have them installed on their buildings.

At the Conservative Party fringe event Civil Society Minister Nick Hurd, who has consulted Robert Ashton, said that other large businesses were working within the Big Society plan.

"My message to businesses is to go and look at what some of the best businesses in the country are doing," he said.

Mr Hurd said that Sainsbury’s, Asda, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte were all working with communities, charities and not-for-profit organisations.


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