THE idea that raising the living standards of everyone in society also helps business isn’t new. It’s hard to sell things to people who don’t have any money, a lesson Henry Ford learned. Raising his workers’ pay so they could afford to buy his cars helped drive the rapid early growth of the car industry.

But delivering inclusive growth, one of the four pillars of Scotland’s economic strategy, can challenge accepted realities in the business world – a world I spent 30 years in before entering politics.

This week saw a concrete example of the rhetoric hitting the road – literally.

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Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, a man I’ve met and know is passionate about growing the city’s economy, publicly highlighted a report where local businesses blamed homelessness and street begging for driving away customers and hurting sales.

Stuart’s comments were the subject of much debate. How does public policy impact on business, and what role does business have to play in helping fix society’s problems. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good for the bottom line.

Since being elected last year, homelessness is an issue I’ve tried to understand, and am doing what I can to help resolve. The Glasgow City Mission is one of many organisations doing great work with those who find themselves in this situation. I’ve supported the mission with financial donations, and spent time at their emergency shelter. Most importantly I’ve taken the time to talk to the men and women who are sleeping rough – both at the shelter and on the streets, including a young man Alex who was a regular beggar outside my local train station last winter. Trying to understand how people end up in this situation, and what can be done to help find solutions.

It’s a complex area. Addiction, mental health, relationship breakdown, job loss and prison time often form part of the personal story. It is, however, an issue that we can, and must, resolve. Not only because it’s the right thing to do for young men like Alex, but because as Stuart’s comments make clear, we won’t have the thriving economy we all want to see while so many of our fellow citizens are unable to find a roof over their heads.

I’m glad to hear that Stuart is now engaging with homeless charities to better understand the issue. I would like to invite him to spend an evening with me, on the streets, with one of the groups who do outreach work with the homeless, talking to those affected, and then working to engage the innovation and financial muscle of the business community to combine with city government and voluntary agencies to fix this problem once and for all.

One thing I know about business leaders is that they love a challenge. If part of Stuart’s legacy from leading the Chamber of Commerce was to help eradicate the need for begging on our streets. That would be something worth writing home about.