Continuing delays to the school building programme are not only constraining economic growth in the short term but they also have potential for negative impact in the long term.
Dilapidated school buildings are no place for our children to learn. And while new school projects are in limbo, the UK is racing down international league tables for literacy and numeracy, with serious implications for the future competitiveness of our economy.
Does this matter to the construction industry? Of course it does - a healthy schools building programme creates work for those of us who specialise in educational buildings. But it goes beyond that.
We all rely on our schools to produce the workforce of tomorrow, to encourage talent to grow and to stimulate interest in a career in our industry. If we turn a blind eye to the problems now, we are only creating bigger problems in the future.
Now is the time for all responsible businesses to make a long-term commitment to supporting their local schools.
There are great schemes out there - such as Business in The Community’s ‘Business Class’ programme - that can bridge the gap between economic interest and social responsibility.
Business Class pairs secondary schools in disadvantaged areas with businesses and encourages the partnerships to work together to solve the priority issues directly affecting that school.
It’s also more than a box-ticking corporate social responsibility exercise. We have found that the business case for these schemes is compelling.
We know that our workforce is more engaged as a result of its involvement in ‘Business Class’. They know they are making a difference and are proud of what they do.
It goes beyond our staff. When local communities see how we operate, it can open doors to new business opportunities.
When you have a good story to tell, you can stand out from the crowd and in today’s competitive environment, although customers are focused on cost, they also want business partners who share their values.
We are not alone in seeing the business benefits. According to figures from BITC and the Doughty Group, 79 per cent of chief finance officers believe that social responsibility programmes add value to their brand and reputation.
Not only that, the lessons you can learn from bright youngsters can feed directly into your business. Helping schools get the best out of students means those young people are more likely to aspire to a career in construction - and be stronger candidates when the time comes.
We know investment in young people is an investment in the nation’s future as well. CSR is a crucial part of any successful, long-term, sustainable business strategy. With such a strong business case for doing our part, we would be crazy not to.
Now is the time to take positive action to safeguard the future of our businesses, as well as that of our future leaders.
Paul Drechsler is the chairman and chief executive of Wates Group