· News

Business leaders and MPs move to create recruitment opportunities for ex-offenders

To mark the first day of Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Convention, secretary of state for justice Kenneth Clarke and former MP Jonathan Aitken have joined with business leaders to encourage more employers to create opportunities for job seekers with previous criminal convictions within their organisations.

At an evening last night in London 150 delegates including representatives from business, prison and probation services and ex offenders will met for a showcase of the Employers' Forum for Reducing Re-offending , a collaboration of businesses committed to reducing re-offending which is managed by Business in the Community.

Clarke said: "Gaining employment plays a crucial role in preventing offenders from committing further crimes and helps turn them from a financial drain on society to law abiding tax payers.

"We are committed to giving prisoners work-based skills in order to increase their chances of getting a job on release and are grateful for the work of the EFRR and to all those employers who are prepared to gain the benefits of working with ex-offenders."

People with criminal convictions face multiple barriers to gain and sustain employment, particularly during periods of high unemployment. Yet there is a direct link between unemployment and re-offending with two-thirds of people in UK prisons unemployed in the four weeks before their imprisonment. Re-offending also has huge economic implications, costing the tax payer £11 billion a year. Business in the Community's campaign aims to challenge misconception about the skills and abilities of ex offenders by highlighting to companies of all sizes the untapped potential which many businesses are not recognising.

James Timpson CEO, Timpson added: "Employment is key to reducing re-offending and we recognise that we can attract talent from unusual places. Timpson employs 5% of its workforce directly from prison, they are valued and important members of the team. For my business, our employees' skills and drive are much more important than any previous criminal convictions."

Marco Pagni, group legal council and chief administrative officer, Alliance Boots spoke at the reception to announce the company's commitment to support the employment of ex offenders within Alliance Boots.

He said: "This is not a simple issue - people end up offending for a variety of complex reasons. As employers, the most powerful thing we can do is help create a second chance for offenders and make it possible for people with criminal convictions to enter employment and get back on track.

"I am very proud to announce that Alliance Boots, in collaboration with a number of our key suppliers will work over the next year to make the Group and our supply chain accessible to ex offenders. This will help ensure that people who want to avoid re-offending have the opportunity to gain and sustain employment with Alliance Boots and some of its key suppliers."

At Business in the Community's Summit last month Prime Minister David Cameron described businesses as 'the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known." The Responsible Business Convention has been designed to raise awareness of what responsible business really means, looks and feels like, and bust some of the common myths about corporate responsibility by showcasing practical examples from companies that are genuinely integrating responsible behavior in areas where business can make a difference - such as widening access to employment to people from disadvantaged groups.

Edwina Hughes, Business in the Community said: "With unemployment at record levels and the prison population at breaking point, there has never been a more critical time to take a fresh look at the link between employment and reducing re-offending. Getting a job provides individuals with a viable alternative to the revolving door of prison. Put simply employment reduces the likelihood of re-offending by between 30-50% - so it is absolutory central as a solution to this issue.

"According to research by Working Links nine out of ten employers are willing to employ people with criminal convictions, yet only two out of ten are doing so. This reflects a disconnect between intention and action. This campaign seeks to address this disconnect and equip employers with the information and support they need to recruit people because of their talent and abilities and despite their previous criminal convictions. People with criminal convictions, given the right encouragement and opportunity can become valuable employees, and we are delighted that so many leading employers are now recognizing this."