It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to see you all here today to celebrate the 21st anniversary of The Prince's Trust Business Programme.
I want to begin by offering my heartfelt thanks to Fred Goodwin, who somehow manages to fit chairing my Trust into his impossibly busy life as Chief Executive of the ever-expanding Royal Bank of Scotland Group. In fact, I rather wonder how many new banks he will have acquired by the time we leave here today!
I am also enormously grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has found the time to be part of this celebration, which happily falls on the eve of Enterprise Week. If I might say so, I like to think that this proves that The Trust's Business Programme has truly come of age and is recognized as making a real contribution to the British economy – by The Treasury, of all organizations!
By the way, Moira Stuart's generous contribution towards the compèring of this event is enormously appreciated – as is her role as a Prince's Trust Ambassador over the past ten years.
I always say that the best way to explain what my Trust is trying to do is to let the people we have helped tell their own story. And I think that having listened to Paula, James and Vincent you can only all agree with me. They are three remarkable people, and there are another eighteen here today who have been selected by The Prince's Trust to represent the young people we have set-up in business over the last 21 years. My admiration for all that they have achieved is boundless and I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of each and every one of them.
They have all had to overcome some extraordinary hurdles to achieve success, and it just proves what can be accomplished if we can only give young people the right support at the right time. Of course, not everyone is suited to running their own business, but there are a great many young people out there with real talent and a good idea who only lack belief in themselves, and the necessary financial support, to start them on their way.
There was one person who understood this better than anyone and who did so much to make the Business Programme a reality. Sir Angus Ogilvy's ability to persuade all sorts of people, including various Governments, to fund the Programme has been second to none and we all owe him the greatest possible debt. In fact, one of the people whom he managed to persuade to match-fund the programme was Lord Young of Graffham, who was then Secretary of State for Employment and who, to my delight and surprise, immediately saw the mutual benefit of funding such a scheme – even though he may have got into a spot of trouble with his then Prime Minister for committing the Government to rather more funds that perhaps he had imagined! I am delighted that David could be with us today – and you may be interested to know that we have brought him into the fold and that he is now Chairman of The Prince's Trust Development Board.
Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of Angus and David and to countless others, many of whom are represented in this room, the Business Programme has expanded beyond my wildest imagination. In just 21 years, we have helped more than 60,000 young people to set up in business. Last year, alone, we started some 4,300 businesses which is equivalent to ten per cent of all businesses started in 2003 in England and Wales by those under thirty.
Obviously, every one of these 60,000 is important to us, but to celebrate the 21st birthday, we selected 21 businesses to give a snapshot of what has been achieved and to reflect the different contributions which the Programme can make. Our business success stories can be divided into three broad categories which are by no means mutually exclusive: those which predominantly represent commercial success; those which, first and foremost, provide a community service and those which, above all, represent personal achievement.
Among the 21 businesses being profiled here today, we have the multi-national success stories like Attik, which was started, as you have just heard, quite literally in James's grandmother's attic and now has offices all over the world. Another example is Active Supply and Design started by Andrew Donaldson fourteen years ago and which has since turned over £50million and created over a hundred jobs. To my particular delight, Andrew, whom we supported all those years ago, is now Chairman of my Trust's Business Panel in Cheshire, where he helps young people to follow in his footsteps – a remarkable example of the virtuous circle which I have always wanted to create with my Trust!
We also have marvellous illustrations of businesses with a social purpose, such as “Energy and Vision” – a company established by two young men who were formerly dependent on drugs - which provides drugs education to young people, their parents and professionals.
You have just heard from Paula, James and Vincent the difference that the Business Programme has made at a very personal level. If you take the opportunity to talk to all the businesses here today, you will hear that between them they have overcome obstacles which would have defeated most of us: long-term unemployment, ill-health, injury, lack of education and qualifications, drug dependency, time spent in prison, poverty and a lack of faith in them as people. The banks and other funding bodies turned them away as too high a risk, but The Prince's Trust refused to judge them by their past and their background and, instead, saw their potential.
Incidentally, I did just want to tell you that my Trust is now working hard to engage young entrepreneurs within the Muslim community, where I fear that, despite the potential, there is a generation of young people at risk of frustration, unemployment and, indeed, alienation. One of the ways in which we are encouraging young, Muslim businesses is by providing start-up loans which conform to Islamic principles. With young, British Muslims over-represented in the constituency of the unemployed, I happen to believe that our work in engaging this particular group is more important now than ever.
None of us at The Trust pretends for one moment that every business we start-up is a success. Of course, some fail or cease to trade. But the experience itself of starting a business gives young people skills which make them employable and gives them the confidence to go on to further training. You might be interested to hear that after twelve months, 96 per cent of young people we supported are either still trading, in education or training or have gone on to other employment. Indeed, the very first business that The Trust supported – the aptly named “Royale Chip Shop” -was sold as a going concern after just over eighteen months' trading and the two entrepreneurs, Julie and Annette, who, I am delighted to say, are here today, went on to work with a local firm having previously found it difficult to find any sort of employment.
I like to think that any Chancellor of the Exchequer would see our Business Programme as making a real contribution to the economy – but then that may easily be wishful thinking! Just taking the 21 businesses which we have selected to represent the last 21 years, they have a combined turnover of £50 million per annum. Let me just repeat that, £50 million per annum from just 21 businesses! And, between them, they employ around 430 people – some of them in particularly deprived areas. If I may say so, I think this is a startlingly good return on an average investment by my Trust of just £3,000. Not only do our businesses deliver substantial tax revenue to the Treasury, but also represent the transformation of economically inactive people into net contributors to the economy. Back to my virtuous circle once more…
The young people that my Trust helps is only half the story. I also want to pay tribute to our army of volunteer business mentors who work so tirelessly to support the young people on our Business Programme and provide them with expert advice in their first three years. I know that the Chancellor is a great believer in the important role which mentors can play – something which we have long since found at The Trust. We rely on them heavily, and I am sure that the businesses here today would agree with me whole-heartedly when I say that we simply could not do what we do without them. They are our secret weapon and the key to our success. Incidentally, when we first started our Business Programme I spent a great deal of time going round the country trying to recruit mentors from every kind of organization and professional association and now we are lucky enough to have nearly 6,500 of them.
Of course, we are also utterly indebted to our supporters and donors whose time and financial contributions make our work possible.
Not least of these is The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which shares my Trust's aim of engaging those young people whom I call “the hardest to reach”. With more than one million 16-24-year-olds in the United Kingdom currently not in education, employment or training, it is vital that we try new ways of reaching them. Today's announcement of a further, enormously generous, £5 million from The Royal Bank of Scotland Group will enable us to look at how we can expand our mentoring system and make enterprise work in this country's most deprived areas.
And the Royal Bank of Scotland Group's commitment goes far beyond the generous financial contributions which it makes each year. Hundreds of members of staff give up their time to work as volunteers – bringing their considerable experience and expertize to bear on the young people my Trust helps. The Royal Bank really is a caring bank, and the more banks they swallow up, the more opportunities for caring!
Over the years my Trust has been blessed not only with extraordinary help from the private sector, but from Government too. The Department of Work and Pensions provides us with utterly invaluable support and Jobcentre Plus has seconded staff to work with us on the Programme. These partnerships are, I feel, a wonderful example of what can be achieved when the public, private and charitable sectors join forces to meet the needs of our young people.
Finally, I would just like to say a personal word of thanks to all the exhausted staff at my Trust, led so ably by our new Chief Executive, Martina Milburn. They have worked ceaselessly and with the greatest possible commitment and I wouldn't know what to do without them…
All I ever wanted to do with my Trust was to make an investment in the future so that young people could realize their full potential for themselves, for their communities and for the nation. I think you can perhaps now understand why I feel so proud of all those we have helped over the last 21 years and why I take such a personal interest in them.