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What should companies do when the riots break out?

Date: 10 Aug 2011
Author: Mallen Baker

London riot

In the UK, the 1980s saw a wave of inner-city riots as the growth of long-term unemployment and urban deprivation meant that frustrations boiled over into an orgy of violent protest. What did businesses do then - and are we now back in the same position?

A return to the 1980s?

In the UK, the 1980s saw a wave of inner-city riots as the growth of long-term unemployment and urban deprivation meant that frustrations boiled over into an orgy of violent protest. There was nothing much noble or well articulated about the riots - but people in government and business recognised that they were a response to a situation that had to be addressed and remedied.

Amongst other things, this led to the initial founding of Business in the Community which, in those days, was very much focused on business engagement with inner-city regeneration, and with community involvement.

The slogan from one of the founding businesses was "healthy high streets need healthy back streets." It was a neat, single sentence that summed up the enlightened business case for getting involved.

So have we come full circle? Do the recent riots in London and other UK cities mean that we are now back to square one, and we need to begin the cycle anew.

Not quite. In the 1980s the focus was very much location-based. There were significant areas in the inner cities that had become slums - estates that were in terminal decay, where the unemployment and the crime rates soared and where nobody felt they could escape. These became the centres of protest. Brixton, where the process began. Handsworth. Southall. Toxteth.

And these were race riots. Large black populations who, in the age when 'stop and search' was routinely being carried out by police apparently targeted on a racial basis, simmering resentments existed.

After the riots, Lord Scarman produced his landmark report. It found unquestionable evidence of indiscriminate use of 'stop and search' powers against black people. It highlighted real problems of racial disadvantage and inner-city deprivation.

So it was that regional development agencies were founded, and lots of government, and private sector, money was routed into developing areas to create an upward spiral of investment and employment.

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The slogan from one of the founding businesses was "healthy high streets need healthy back streets." It was a neat, single sentence that summed up the enlightened business case for getting involved.

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