Trust between business, politics and media at a low, finds DLA Piper-commissioned report

A report by Populus commissioned by DLA Piper — called The Trust Report: After the Crash — has found that an anti-business mood is hampering a sustainable recovery and politicians and media are viewed as not understanding capitalism, while business has not been vocal enough in defending itself nor proactive enough in promoting the vital role it plays in society.

The report drew its inspiration from a research report entitled The Trust Deficit: Views from the Boardroom, published by DLA Piper in 2011. The new report, which features findings garnered from interviewing 51 business leaders, politicians and senior media commentators, is in essence a follow-up work to the original report, conceived to identify whether the cyncism and mistrust that enveloped society as a direct result of the financial crisis have now widened into a systemic problem.

The below findings represent the major consensus views that have come out of the report:

  • It is clear that trust between business leaders, politicians and the upper echelons of the media — previously a source strength within the established corridors of power — has broken down.
  • Trust in business remains at the forefront of the political agenda. Westminster remains committed to addressing what is perceived to be widespread malpractice among businesses — from energy firms hiking prices to PPI mis-selling — to the detriment of the consumer.
  • The scale of mistrust between business, politics and the media has grown and diversified since the first trust report. This has been fuelled in part by the media, which has been guilty of giving in to sensationalism on many occasions. A recurring theme in the interviews with business leaders was that non-financial services businesses are increasingly resenting being tarnished by the same brush the media and politicians have used to smear the reputation of banks over the past few years.
  • Businesses are seen as not contributing enough to the debate — there remains a lack of co-ordination or strength of voice within the business community. There is a feeling that more should be done to promote British business good news stories and to take credit for the economic turnaround story the UK is currently enjoying.
  • Social media, particularly Twitter, has fuelled the anti-business ire — everyone is now a commentator and has a voice on public forums such as Facebook and Twitter. The anti-business rhetoric that has permeated the media is a source of serious concern for businesses.
  • While there is acknowledgement that the financial crisis has been a torrid time for businesses, there is little sign that corporate behaviour is changing in any meaningful way. In other words, it’s business as usual for most businesses, which do not see themselves as the source of the ‘trust deficit’ problem. Some jaded politicians and commentators think that the UK is currently experiencing the wrong kind of growth (i.e. one based on a credit and housing boom) and that the recovery will be short lived.
  • If businesses are viewed by the majority of politicians with deep scepticism, then the feeling is mutual, with a growing sense in the business community that politicians and the media simply do not understand capitalism. This is particularly the case with politicians, who are seen as being devoid of business experience and accused of drawing ill-informed and unhelpful conclusions, which has hampered UK growth and the international reputation of the UK plc.
  • As a corollary to this, political messages are seen by business and the media as being opaque and often contradictory.

DLA Piper proposes the following recommendations: 

  1. British businesses should speak out more and deliver positive messages that show that they are a force for good. It is clear that businesses expect industry organisations such as the IoD and the CBI to do more in this regard, but businesses themselves should also be promoting the virtue of capitalism and the benefits it brings. Schools have a role to play in explaining the value of commercial activity and countering any cultural problem with success. Business needs to re-evaluate its social responsibility and pro-bono activity accordingly.
  2. In discussion between business, financial and politicial leaders and the wider community, it is important to explore the areas where trust has broken down and formulate solutions for the long term. DLA Piper is in discussion with the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation at Saïd Business School with a view to partnering with them in creating a platform for discussion of trust and the issues surrounding it across a broad cross section of the relevant stakeholders. DLA Piper and Populus will also collaborate with the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation in taking the trust research forward. With its partners, DLA Piper has the opportunity to design a research project that differs from the already existing literature on trust.
  3. DLA Piper needs to continue to track and report on the level of trust and relations between relevant stakeholders and sections of the community. The firm will continue to work with its partners to ensure it has the correct tools to consistently monitor and understand the changing trust landscape. This further research will provide the firm with specialist insight into issues of trust that will affect its clients and their businesses and inform DLA Piper’s counsel accordingly.