The UK is facing fundamental shifts. These range from Brexit to declining natural resources, the influence of industry regulation and its impact on innovation, the evolving digital landscape, artificial intelligence, transparency, connectivity and the rise of the sharing economy.

These shifts present opportunities and challenges. Education and the workplace are adapting but progress is slow. Faster change is also needed in public services, to keep up with this new landscape.

Against this backdrop, there is a growing trust deficit in society. We feel there needs to be a systemic approach to restoring it.

Trust is critical to businesses playing an effective role in society. It provides the basis for efficient decision making, the adoption of innovative products and services, higher productivity and investment. Importantly, it underpins companies’ ‘license to operate’.

We therefore decided to set ourselves a bold purpose – to unlock the potential for growth in our people, clients and communities. We are seeking to shape a vibrant UK economy that is collaborative, open, trusted, connected and prosperous, and where markets, businesses, places and people thrive.


Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research identified that untapped business potential could add £479 billion to the UK economy. This provided the context for introducing our Vibrant Economy agenda to the market and our engagement with cities, communities and the corporate, public and third sectors, to jointly develop solutions that will unlock the shared potential of the UK economy.

Our work started with setting a clear purpose. This clarifies how we select the clients we work with, the things we speak out on and what we may stop doing. We then began a comprehensive programme of activities to address the challenges, through:

  • adopting a shared enterprise business model, driven by our belief that we are always better and stronger together and to unlock ideas in all our people
  • conducting thematic inquiries, which include analysis and research to support the three strands of thinking underpinning a vibrant economy: trust and integrity in markets, places where people and business thrive, and enabling sustainable and dynamic growth
  • conducting vibrant city inquiries, by convening a range of local stakeholders in regional Live Lab events, to determine a unified response to unlocking growth potential locally
  • recruiting a Vibrant Economy commission, which is a team of external stakeholders chaired by Brompton CEO Will Butler-Adams, to steer inquiries and workstreams
  • introducing Faces of a Vibrant Economy, in which we identify and celebrate 100 business figures each year who embody a Vibrant Economy
  • developing a Vibrant Economy Index to assess the state of the economy, using publicly available data sets across a basket of measures
  • pursuing a market-leading approach to tackling social mobility, following our decision to drop academic entry requirements at graduate and school-leaver level in 2013, we redesigned our trainee application form to remove weightings for extra-curricular activities and work experience and redefined our target schools and universities
  • continuing research into corporate governance best practice, enabling us to work with businesses to improve transparency, accountability and engagement with stakeholders
  • developing a charter for good growth (to be launched next year), a tool that enables businesses to create a strategy and action plan for social and environmental impact.


In just two years, we have replaced 20% of our profits by selectively exiting certain business streams and investing in others that are consistent with our purpose.

We have grown market share in each of our three impact areas: building trust and integrity in markets, unlocking sustainable growth for dynamic organisations, and creating environments where business and people can thrive. Our work with one of the four major UK clearing banks on ring-fencing its retail bank and our market-leading position in local government and NHS audits are just two demonstrations of our ability to gain and sustain market share.

The Grant Thornton brand is increasingly standing out in the market. Awareness and familiarity are significantly up and our brand consideration – a measure of the number of organisations that would consider working with us – has seen an impressive 60% year-on-year increase. Even more encouraging is our impression on prospective clients, with the number who believe we offer services meeting their needs almost doubling year-on-year.

We have also been recognised through the following awards:

  • the Working Families Innovation award for our family leave policy
  • The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the ‘Promoting Opportunity’ category, in recognition of our actions to improve social mobility in the workplace
  • MPF Awards for Management Excellence 2018 – Most Innovative Client Service
  • MPF Awards for Management Excellence 2018 – Most Inclusive Firm
  • Number 1 – Social Mobility Employer Index (2017) and Number 2 in 2018

Key lesson

Businesses need a clear purpose that your people understand and can apply to your everyday business decisions.

Collaboration between the public, private and third sector is the key to achieving impact at scale and building resilient and future-fit businesses. Whether that means working with banks, regulators and government to rebuild trust or working with the public sector to build thriving environments that support sustainable