I can think of no better way to mark the 30th anniversary of Business in the Community than for it to become the hub of a network of businesses deploying all we have learned in those three decades about creating effective business-community partnerships.

I particularly wanted to thank the Prime Minister for his enormous generosity in coming to join us today when I know he is rushing from one thing to another, but it is extremely good of him to give up his time. Above all else I also wanted to say how enormously I appreciate the fact that all of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, have turned up. 

We weren’t quite sure how many were going to turn up – I think people thought it was only going to be about 400 and it’s now over 600! This shows the level of interest and support for a lot of what you have been hearing this afternoon. But I think it also demonstrates British business, as is here represented by all of you, at its very best. For those of you who have had to put up with me for over 26 years as President of Business in the Community I apologize as I yet again repeat myself that I am enormously grateful. I hesitate on so many occasions to ask you for more - which is always the difficulty because there are so many different challenges, so many issues to be dealt with - but time and again business and the private sector has proved that you have the most enormous value to bring, particularly in partnership with others: the public sector and the community sector. I know you’re asked to do so much – you’re asked for help left, right and centre – but the fact that you do come and give that help, and you provide secondees, makes more difference than you would ever believe and I hope you begin to realize that.     

I know you have been looking at the CommunityMark companies who have achieved the awards. Just those companies alone, their impact is extraordinary. Over the past four years they have collectively invested nearly £750 million in their communities, which, when you tot it all up to that degree, is remarkable. They have also invested over £39 million in employee time to address some of these issues and that is again something remarkable that many people don’t even realize is happening. They have also supported 6.5 million children in over 52,000 schools – that’s another remarkable, unheard of fact. And that is something for which I am deeply grateful, and for the fact that you keep turning up when asked for more!   We were all very shocked by the violence of the riots last Summer. I am old enough to remember riots in Toxteth and Brixton 25 years ago. But I wanted on this occasion, if I may, to pay special tribute to Stephen Howard who brilliantly mobilized Business in the Community to help address some of the issues in the aftermath of the riots; and to Mark Price who, time and again, has proved the value of business leaders of his caliber who can also help to make the connections.   After thirty years of Business in the Community, we do now know what works and, rather than reinventing the wheel, let’s make this one work even better – and that of course is really what today is really all about.  We know about “Work Inspiration”, led by Steve Holliday of National Grid, which is helping young people who, because of their upbringing, have no concept of what it is to go to work.  There is "Ready For Work” – led by John Varley, which does much the same for homeless people. Or Paul Dreschler’s brilliant “Business Class” which forges long –term, strategic partnerships between local clusters of businesses and schools.   

We have learned a lot from these successful initiatives and building on them we have created the idea of "Business Connectors". And this really came about after travelling the country, attending lots of meetings, trying to bring people together - I suddenly realized there was something missing: you sit down and discuss all these issues and everybody agrees, but then there is nobody left behind afterwards as one person who can actually make all these things happen by going around talking to all the players and trying to get them to join up all the dots, locally.  So it seemed to me that a seconded project manager from the business world, from companies that understood what we were trying to achieve, could be of enormous value. And much to my amazement Stephen Howard has picked this up and come up with the Business Connector idea.   I have seen them in action in our pilot projects in Redcar and Tottenham and I know just what a difference they can make.  For instance, Kay Horne from Sainsbury’s -  I saw her the other day when we went down to Tottenham and Haringey six months after we visited in August, to see what had happened, what the problems were for the traders and the shopkeepers. Kay Horne has been an unbelievable "secret weapon" in that area and she said to me when I saw her that if you cut her in half it would say "Sainsbury's" all the way through! But she is somebody, like the other connectors, who, as you've heard, can make the key difference where people actually haven't got together to talk to find solutions on the ground - very often simple solutions. They are worth their weight in gold. 

One person can achieve an enormous amount and can leverage millions - and that's the point.   We have found that critical to the success of Connectors is that they are individuals of high caliber with vast amounts of energy.  In many cases it might be the toughest job they have ever had, but I rather suspect that it could also be the most rewarding, which I think is what you have heard today from the business connector guinea pigs!     So what is the vision for Business Connectors? In short we want to create a nationwide network. We want to make it easy for charities, mine and others, to work together.  In Redcar, Burnley and Burslem we are already doing this. We can build a national network of Business Connectors.   And I can think of no better way to mark the 30th anniversary of Business in the Community than for it to become the hub of a network of businesses deploying all we have learned in those three decades about creating effective business-community partnerships. This could help boost achievement in schools, improve the chances for employment for young and disadvantaged people, encourage entrepreneurial activity, and help the voluntary sector.   It's also important to recognize, and I find this when going abroad travelling, that when you ask people why they want to invest in this country they say, apart from all sorts of other considerations, that they want to invest in this country for its stability.  But I do think that it's also important that we invest in that stability and maintaining it.     

It is always necessary to remember that the business case for your involvement could not be sounder.  Because the health of your bottom line depends upon secure, stable, motivated communities - that's the point.   I would very much like to thank the Prime Minister in particular for his support for Business in the Community’s pilot scheme which created twenty Business Connectors in twenty areas.  I would also like to thank Nick Hurd for guiding things so successfully with his Office of Civil Society and helping to kick-start all this effort. 

Should anyone think that it is only for the large companies, I must just mention S.H.M.  Their participation in the pilot in Islington proves this can work for smaller companies. I also wanted to acknowledge the additional pledge made by Sainsbury’s, Greggs, B.T. and Carillion who are going to extend the length of the secondments they have already created - terrific news - and maintain a Connector in the areas they are supporting.   Of course all this could not be possible without the partnerships with many local and national voluntary groups and charities, particularly the N.C.V.O., A.C.E.V.O., Groundwork, Unlimited, Locality and Pilotlight who have all given invaluable advice.  So, too, the Community Development Foundation.  And those who have offered practical support like office space and technical assistance such as Fujitsu, who have supported the I.T. network that the Connectors use to do their work and record their achievements.  Gwyn Burr and Sainsbury’s have provided outstanding Leadership of the Community Team at B.I.T.C. and the Business Connector programme. I am particularly thrilled that Waitrose, UU, Midland Heart Fujitsu and Accenture are about to second members of their staff on the scheme.  And to Dairy Crest we owe great gratitude for they have shown that the Business Connector model can work as well as in rural areas as it can in towns and cities. 

Finally I am thankful that Lloyds Banking Group has agreed to increase their support of the programme with twenty, twelve month secondments every year for the next three years. That again is unbelievable welcome news.  In addition they have agreed to make a significant financial donation alongside a generous pro bono offer to support the training and support of the Business Connectors. So in conclusion, Business and the Community has already helped, through your help, to bolster the fabric of this country's community capital. Please remember that. I hope others will realize now just how vital your role is in all this - in helping to maintain the community dimension, the social dimension. But we do have to work hard now to make it far more resilient to the growing stresses and strains caused by such a difficult economic climate. All I can say is thank goodness you are all there to help in this time of need.