ANOTHER VIEW : Meanness after the heroism

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It is unpleasant to have to accuse British business of meanness. After all, our companies often give very generously to charities, sport and the arts. But my experience this year, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, leads me to ask whether corporate bodies have the right priorities.

In March, I launched Tribute and Promise, an alliance of more than 100 charities with the aim of raising awareness of the wartime generation and the help that is available to them. We must never forget the courage of those who fought, and the work and the sacrifices of the Home Front. The men and women of the 1930s and 1940s are no longer young, and old age is too often a time of ill health, loneliness and hardship. We want to ensure that there is care and comfort available for them, so that this country can never be said to have let down those that did so much for all of us who value freedom from tyranny.

Fund-raising is not the only purpose of the appeal, as will be obvious in the coming weeks with the commemorations of the end of the war. Our plans include an ecumenical service outside Buckingham Palace, followed by a parade of military and civilian veterans representing the whole of their generation. Communities and families will be holding Sunday lunches on 20 August with members of the wartime generation as their guests of honour.

But we also want money as a mark of respect to try and ensure that charities have the funds to help them keep their promise to care in every way possible for our veterans. I appealed for every individual to donate a minimum 50p - just one penny for every year of peace since 1945. If every individual in Britain responded, we would have pounds 25m. Donations have flooded in from the public. But our business community has not been so generous.

There have been notable exceptions. Taxi-drivers have given us free advertising space on the side of their cabs. Bentalls department store sent us 50p for every one of their employees. Other companies have donated gifts in kind or advertising space. But in general they have ignored our approaches. Their response has been lamentable. I can hardly believe that corporate Britain finds it so easy to ignore the very people who fought against the evil forces who threatened to engulf us.

Businesses are quick to give to causes that will grab the headlines - or sponsor arts and sporting events that provide them with free tickets for corporate hospitality. In the weeks leading up to the commemoration of VJ Day, our businesses have the chance to show that they will be as generous to a less glamorous cause. After all, the freedom in which they operate was bought at a price paid by our older generation.

The writer is patron of the Tribute and Promise trust fund.

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