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Companies' gifts beat the recession

Company cash and donations to the community have remained steady despite the recession, with education and training benefiting most from business contributions.

The UK's top 400 corporate donors gave Pounds 264 million to the community in 1994, compared to Pounds 248 million in 1993, Pounds 255 million in 1992 and Pounds 225 million in 1991, with education and training the top priority, according to the Directory of Social Change.

David Casson, a researcher with the directory, said the companies had probably decreased donations slightly in real terms. However, donations as a percentage of pre-tax profit have remained steady - 0.47 per cent in 1994, 0.46 per cent (1993), 0.49 per cent (1992) and 0.42 per cent (1991).

These percentages are slightly below 0.5 per cent of pre-tax profit, the figure the Per Cent Club - some 400 firms committed to community giving -recommends.

Although the figures have not been broken down for education and more than half of these donations go direct to charities, Business in the Community says education and training is a priority.

Ian Pearce, director of education for Business in the Community, said: "There is a genuine feeling that if it were not, the UK would not be competitive. It is a hard business case."

Business in the Community was created in 1982 and has 460 member companies including 80 of the top 100. According to Mr Pearce companies know that under 10 per cent of jobs for men in Britain's cities (the figure is higher for women) are for low-skilled work. Business wanted a skilled workforce which would attract the kind of investment made by Toyota and similar companies.

The 1992 Per Cent Club report shows that 87 per cent of members are involved with education and training, followed by the environment (73 per cent), economic regeneration (58 per cent) and community care (56 per cent). But the Seventies' trend of giving cash to schools and colleges is slowly changing. Business is now moving towards donating employee time. Business in the Community's recommendation that companies spend 1,000 hours a year in schools or colleges can equal the hard cash alternative but it also ensures that company employees gain management experience.

Marks and Spencer, for example, has 25 managers in full-time community work. Six of the 25 are in education.

And 50 volunteer mentors from National Westminster Bank have provided help with pupils' reading and writing at Winton primary school in Islington north London. The company also has 900 employees as school governors, a policy which Business in the Community is encouraging all companies to adopt.

The organisation is also pushing projects such as the Toyota science and technology education fund, as the industry-school links of the future. Toyota has given Pounds 600,000 in grants to 1,981 schools since 1992. A key part of the scheme is to encourage the involvement of local businesses and so far a total of 3,708 companies have taken part.

But the unco-ordinated and inefficient use of company time and money is worrying some observers. The Association for Science Education and Business in the Community both recommend that companies consult widely before making an expensive video or launching a new project.

But some duplication and lack of co-ordination is inevitable, especially as Britain, unlike France, is resisting a training tax or levy.

France's taxe d'apprentissage, which since 1925 has required companies to pay 0.6 per cent of their employees' salaries to the Government or an approved college for training, is unlikely to catch on, despite pressure from the Trades Union Congress.

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