Chancellor, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, I must say it is marvellous that we are lucky enough at many of these Prince’s Trust events to have the services of off-duty BBC news readers and I am enormously grateful for the help that we’ve been given today. It really is an enormous advantage and done, if may I say so, with such humour and tact. While The Chancellor and I were going around out there, we came across all these marvellous businesses that have been set up including the Super Juice one. Indeed, we did avoid the green juice but I did choose one that was supposed to have some high energy content, hoping that it would give me a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ zest, but if you see me slowly sink below this lectern you will know it’s had the opposite effect!
But, if I may say so, I am hugely grateful to The Chancellor of the Exchequer for taking the time and trouble to be with us today and for showing such enormous interest in this programme which goes back 25 years now. And I am also particularly grateful to Lady Vadera for her willingness to come here today and also take part in the panel discussion and for her support and The Chancellor’s, who through the Government has been enormously important. And I am hugely grateful for the support that the Government provides in different ways in order to enable this whole Business Programme to continue.
Perhaps, ladies and gentlemen, thinking back to the fact that it has been 25 years since we started, it might just be worth remembering that at the time we began this venture, it was after the riots in Toxteth and Brixton. And I recall ringing up the person who was then running my Trust and saying that I felt there must be something we can do which would make a contribution towards meeting these enormous challenges.
You probably won’t know that I went around the country in the ‘80s trying to recruit as many mentors as I could from all sorts of different organizations, agencies, associations, chambers of commerce, you name it. Anyway, it was quite hard work, but at the end of the day we now have ended up with some 7,000 volunteers all over the country who play this crucial and invaluable role, as you have heard from so many of these young business people who have set up.
Without them nothing could really be done, but then, after a few years of pushing this programme forward, it came to the time of my 40th Birthday, and there is somebody sitting here in the audience who knows only too well about this who put forward the suggestion that it might be a good idea to use that occasion to develop the programme even more widely. It was Lord Young who was a Minister in the Government at that time, who for some reason or another fortunately saw the point of matching the funding - matching what we raised. He then went over to his Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, and managed to persuade her that it might be a good idea to do this. In fact I think that she was slightly horrified to hear that he had already agreed to match the money!
I don’t think she had thought we’d raise all that much. Anyway, we raised an awful lot and the Government matched this. I like to think that over the years this particular venture has, I hope, made a substantial contribution to this country’s economy, and I think it has been a valuable investment in the future and in really solid businesses. What has given me such pleasure and reward is to see many of those businesses starting off in the 1980s becoming really successful, turning over a huge amount of money, some of these selling their businesses for millions of pounds. Also, when travelling around the world and going on these official tours which we occasionally do, we find people which The Prince’s Trust started off, doing business in other parts of the world. That is, as you can imagine, hugely rewarding.
So I am afraid that I then thought that we are missing a trick - why don’t we set up something like an alumni association which could bring together as many of the successful businesses that we’ve set up over the years partly because those businesses that have made a lot of money, we might squeeze a bit of money out of them! - to help put something back into the new businesses. Particularly, as you can imagine, it is not always easy finding the funding to start the whole process going. So what I am talking about now is being able to launch today The Prince’s Trust Business Club which is the result of all this effort.
The trouble was, ladies and gentlemen, when you actually started to see where all these businesses were, we hadn’t got any records. And that was a result of, 25 years ago, it being literally one man and a dog in an office - and the dog didn’t keep the records! We have now got over 200 businesses that have joined this club - they can only join once they’ve paid off their loan - and the great thing is that they can have a series of benefits they can enjoy. This will enable them to keep in touch with the Trust’s work and receive practical, useful benefits from expert business information to discounted books and magazines, even, so I am told free decorating kits and amazingly, I read, free drink! Which may be or may not be a good thing, I am not sure.
But anyway, I am sure that therefore you will be able to continue the process of what I have always wanted to see which is the virtuous circle, at the end of the day, so that those who have been successful will be able to help others and act as mentors. Also, as you have already heard from the young business people themselves, far better than I can ever describe, there is a real difference that can be made to their lives - there are quite a lot of businesses whose entrepreneurs have spent time in prison and just to see their lives being transformed and having their potential developed is hugely encouraging.
Hopefully they will be able to mentor other ex-offenders and again, this just helps to keep this virtuous circle going. I did particularly want to express my heartfelt appreciation to all those mentors - it was marvellous hearing from Peter Cruddas just now - talking about what the Prince’s Trust Business Programme means to people. The fact that he and the other Dragon we’ve heard from, Mr. Caan, are prepared to put so much time and effort into the encouragement and development of these young people is really remarkable, and without them really we would simply not be able to do all this. Nor would we be able to do it, I hasten to say it, without all those remarkable people at the Prince’s Trust, at the Head Office and all over the country, who day after day are working to encourage the young.
As Peter Cruddas was saying, the local attention that is created by a young business person who the Trust has started off, can make a big difference to the local community. So I am particularly grateful to him for his extraordinarily generous support in Wales in helping to restart the programme there, as unfortunately we had to bring it to an end and now we have to start again and rebuild a mentor network. So, ladies and gentlemen, we now have over 70,000 young people who have set up in business over the last 25 years and I believe that you had a presentation earlier about the detailed research which the consultancy Oliver Wyman has done to analyze the outcomes of The Business Programme.
The finding which really struck me when I looked at a copy of the research was that each Pound invested through my Trust’s Business Programme loan scheme generates at least two Pounds return to The Exchequer. So I hope it was worth the Chancellor coming here today, just to know where some of the money is coming from...
And finally, ladies and gentlemen, I frequently seem to come across young people who, when given the chance, can in fact set up excellent businesses or make worthwhile employees. What is puzzling is that there is this mismatch, I think, in our economy between the skills that clearly need to be provided and young people who, given the right circumstances, clearly could provide these skills. And this mismatch, I think, has probably been brought into focus with the number of skilled workers, many of them self-employed, who have come here to do some of this work in recent years.
So, these young people whom my Trust deals with 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 themselves. And the fact that the Trust has been able, I hope, to give them a sense of confidence and belief in themselves and what they do, I promise you, is a reward in itself.
I am enormously proud of what these young people have achieved and what I know they will go on achieving and the difference many of them are going to go on making to their own communities and indeed in making sure that others can benefit from the success they have made. So thank you all enormously for your wonderful contribution to the work of the Trust. I am most grateful.