Dr Adam Marshall, Acting Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce recently spoke alongside a range of senior business leaders at the 15th Annual Responsible Business Summit on the theme of ‘creating a business of purpose’. He used the opportunity to highlight Chambers of Commerce – some of the UK’s original ‘businesses of purpose’. This is an expanded version of what he had to say.

Business is once again back in the headlines. We’ve heard loud business voices on both sides in the EU referendum debate, and we’ve also seen some business leaders taken to task recently for poor corporate practice – with consequences for shareholders, employees and for the reputation of business as a whole.

So it is a pleasure to have the chance to talk about great businesses, and an even greater pleasure to talk about the positive role that Chambers play in local communities and in society as a whole.

If what I have to say today sounds a bit like a love letter to the work I’ve been involved in for the past seven years, that’s probably because it is.

The network of Chambers of Commerce contains some of the UK’s oldest, most dedicated, and most emblematic businesses of purpose. Some have been in existence for over 250 years, and have changed with the times in order to meet the changing needs of their members.

Yet a few things have remained constant throughout Chambers’ decades or centuries of work on behalf of local businesses. Chambers have always been about helping businesses to connect with each other locally. They have always fought to make the towns, cities and counties they call home better places to live and work. And they have always helped local businesses achieve success in the wider world, and boost international trade links.

As membership organisations, owned by and for local business communities, Chambers are a unique form of ‘businesses of purpose’. Direct, democratic accountability is at the heart of each Chamber — making each a business democracy.

As companies limited by guarantee, with no distributions to their members, Chambers avoid conflicts of interest — and can serve as trusted partners for other businesses, and for the public sector alike.

We at the British Chambers of Commerce — owned by that network of Chambers, who in turn are owned by their members — have the privilege of amplifying their voice. Working as a network, we can represent members’ interests locally, nationally and internationally.

Together we set, and live by, high standards. A robust Chamber accreditation system demonstrates a commitment to quality services, stable finances, and the highest standards of governance — both here in the UK and now in British Chambers across the world.

Chambers also ‘walk the talk’ — through apprenticeships, through promotion of local procurement, building strong supply chains, supporting local charities, and through sharing good practice with each other. While our business membership is diverse and growing, we know we have more to do to demonstrate that diversity — and get a wider cross-section of our members into senior leadership positions.

Put simply, Chambers are intimately involved in so many facets of local life. They have been businesses of purpose since their very creation — a fact which motivates the more than 1,600 people who work for accredited Chambers across the United Kingdom each and every day.

Government initiatives come and go — and indeed, so too do many businesses. Yet Chambers remain, because our purpose remains as strong today as it was two centuries ago. We look forward to being part of the transformation of business, the development of local communities, and the building of a better business culture, for many more years to come.