Ladies and gentlemen I am delighted, at last, to be attending a TEC conference in person. Four years ago I came to Brighton by video, having broken my arm in a rather incompetent fashion! It is much more satisfying to be here in person - and in one, relatively entire, piece!
From the outset, the TECs confounded the early sceptics and demonstrated the immense rewards that can be achieved when business works in partnership with the community. In my travels throughout the country, I have met a considerable number of TEC Chairmen and Directors - men and women who are giving freely of their time and experience to improve the economic and social conditions of their areas. I have been enormously impressed with your personal leadership, your energy, your ingenuity and commitment to the challenging tasks facing you.
And in all my dealings with TECs I never forget that you are volunteers which, to me, is the remarkable thing about you - and one of your greatest strengths. In my view, it is one of the reasons why you have won such wide support for much of your work.
You are now entering a new phase in your development. Your increased responsibilities for local economic development and community regeneration give a new order of importance to your work - because nothing can be higher on our national agenda than trying to build thriving, confident communities which offer real opportunities for prosperity and personal growth to all our citizens.
As many of you may have discovered by now, I am President of Business in the Community, an organisation whose purpose is to increase the involvement of major employers in their communities. BITC is currently undertaking an important study, called 'Work in Society', which examines the global forces that are changing the world around us and the consequences for life as we know it today. The findings of this study paint a dramatic and compelling picture of the challenges we face in the coming decades.
The rapid population growth of developing countries; the extraordinary economic expansion of newly industrialised nations, particularly in the Pacific Rim; the increasing speed of transportation and communications - these forces are all weaving the fabric of a modern, global society ever tighter. They are already touching each of us - creating new opportunities and, at the same time, new challenges for business, for individuals and for the communities in which we live.
Inevitably, the very scale and accelerating pace of these changes (too fast, in many areas, for people to adjust to) brings with them an increasing undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty. It seems to me that in such a turbulent world people's sense of place matters more and more.
That place - the community - is where people live and work, where their children go to school, where friends and neighbours meet. It is familiar and understandable and it is where individuals can believe they have some control over their own destinies. So it is about the importance of place - and how we work within it - that I want to speak to you this morning.
I have always believed that one of the greatest strengths of the TEC movement is that it is (or should be) firmly rooted in the local community. Local problems require local solutions. They demand a practical grasp of what will work and what will not. You have the ability to bring that knowledge and understanding.
I also believe that you have the advantage of scale. If we think nationally, the problems of urban blight, of homelessness and alienation, of unemployment, crime, drugs, health and the environment, can seem overwhelming and intractable. But, viewed locally, they can become far more manageable. At the community level, it is the individual firm that counts; the individual school; the individual housing estate or neighbourhood.
It is particularly encouraging to see the number of TECs that are forging effective partnerships in their communities with local authorities and voluntary organisations. These partnerships are crucial to dealing with the causes, rather than just the symptoms of industrial change, urban decay or rural isolation. Too often when visiting parts of our towns and cities that are crying out for regeneration, you see evidence of what could be called 'sticking plaster solutions'. People have made a perfectly genuine effort to solve one part of the problem. But because they have tackled a piece of the problem in isolation they have missed the target and they have actually failed to make any lasting impact.
The expanding of partnerships between TECs and local authorities provides an important new opportunity to develop a more holistic approach to tackling some of our economic and social ills. It affords, almost for the first time, an opportunity to integrate the skills, resources and disciplines of the public and private sectors in addressing the challenges of community regeneration.
We are already beginning to see the rewards of such an holistic approach. For example, (and I recognise these are only examples, and no doubt many of you are doing equally exciting things) I know that the Northumberland TEC is now working with British Telecom and local authorities to develop the Better Towns initiative. This concept brings together city planners, architects, employers, schools and local residents to set priorities and coherent action plans for revitalising five rural towns.
In Nottinghamshire, I recently visited Mansfield and the mining village of Newstead where the North Notts and Greater Nottingham TECs are working with British Coal Enterprise, the local employers, the County Council and District Authorities to create a blueprint for combining physical regeneration with job creation into the next century.
I have spoken about the advantages which TECs should have by virtue of both your knowledge of your community and the scale on which you operate. It seems to me you have two other equally important assets in the breadth of your remit and the available tools to do the job. Your responsibilities for enterprise, vocational education and skills training allow you to act on a broad canvas and to achieve a more integrated, focused approach to your activities. At the same time, you have the expertise and flexibility to tailor national programmes to the very special needs of your areas.
We have only to look back four years to see how much has been achieved by giving local leaders the resources and latitude to effect positive change. For example, four years ago, the Local Enterprise Agencies and my own Youth Business Trust were amongst the few providers of support to new firms, while assistance to small and medium-sized employers was patchy at best. And yet it is amongst these very companies that there is the greatest promise for wealth creation and the new jobs so vital to economic revitalisation. Today, we see the rapid growth of the Business Links network offering a range of specialist services to new and expanding companies.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Business Links is not merely that it offers better help to growing companies, but that it affords new opportunities to build bridges between companies and employer organisations. I am intrigued by the emerging partnerships between TECs and Chambers of Commerce, particularly those that are exploring the convergence of their organisations. I will watch with great interest to see whether the combined strength of these new structures brings us the rewards which have been gained by the powerful German chambers. I do recognise, of course, that this may be easier in those areas which share common geographic boundaries.
I also believe we can do much to improve the help that large companies can give to smaller firms which wish to expand into new technologies and new markets. Some of our national and multi-national corporations are world leaders but, as far as many TECs are concerned, they still represent a rich and largely untapped pool of managerial, technical and innovatory expertise which could be harnessed far more effectively to assist local companies to develop and grow. As a start, I have asked the staff at Business in the Community to examine ways in which our larger member companies might be mobilised to work with TECs to support Business Links and the companies they serve.
Another area which has always been of particular concern to me is the need to help young people realise their full potential.
Although education must be centred in the classroom, I am delighted that most TECs now share my view that true education extends well beyond the school walls to the home, to work placements and study support centres, to travel opportunities and to all the creative ways that can be used to stretch young people's minds and to spark their imaginations. I am very much struck by the African expression 'it takes a whole village to raise a child'. Just as we are beginning to think holistically about issues and localities, so too, I believe, we must think increasingly about the whole needs of our young people.
Over the years, for what it is worth, I have tried to do what I can about this challenge. I know that many of you have productive relationships with The Prince's Trust and The Prince's Youth Business Trust.
Most recently, I have developed the Prince's Trust Volunteers, providing personal development courses through community service for both employed and unemployed young people, working together in teams. I am pleased to say this approach appears to be gaining support, not least because it works! In your terms, we have a positive outcome for 70% of the unemployed young people who join the programme. Half the TECs are now supporting this programme. I am most grateful to them, and hope we can enlist the support of the other half of you as soon as possible!
It seems to me that the concept of serving the whole needs of a young person applies equally to the training you are providing for unemployed people as well as those who are in the workforce.
Of course, the excellent progress that is being made in the Investors in People initiative will certainly accelerate the numbers of people in work who are retrained and upskilled. It will not, however, touch those men and women who have no jobs and no prospect of moving from the margins to the mainstream of our society. TECs, I believe, have a responsibility to all the people in their areas, including those at greatest disadvantage. We must also, it seems to me, ensure we keep track of people once they leave a particular programme or scheme. I suspect we could all do much more about this, and The Prince's Trust is now looking at this particular challenge.
All this leads me back to the issue of place. Your new responsibilities for economic development and community regeneration put TECs in a pivotal position to tackle many of the problems which I have described. But with these new responsibilities must also come a heightened sense of public accountability and a willingness to listen to those who live and work in a particular place.
In my view, local participation must start at the beginning of a partnership's work, when goals are being set, and not just when delivery is under way.
Examples of community planning process - ie West Silvertown, Docklands etc, giving people a sense of ownership and a stake.
I admit that this is not an easy process. We must start, I think, by giving greater attention to developing the capacity of voluntary organisations and individual community leaders to become active members of local partnerships. As I go round the country, I never cease to be amazed by what some remarkable individuals are able to achieve, often in the most difficult circumstances and against all the odds. I think we have a responsibility to nurture and develop those community entrepreneurs who often have a pivotal role.
I have spoken this morning about the need to work in partnership, about holistic approaches and about the importance of involving the community in the regeneration process. I would like to leave you with one other thought.
It seems to me that we are all living in what appears to be a two-tiered world. On the one hand, the rapid advance of technology and telecommunications is increasing our mobility, expanding our horizons and generating a truly international environment. Companies and their employees are becoming part of global networks which exist independently of political or cultural boundaries.
On the other hand, people's sense of place, their ties to the community, to traditional institutions and to local networks remain, for the most part, strong and will, I suspect, become ever stronger as a reaction to these globalising forces I have mentioned. So, increasingly, people are working and living in two dimensions: the international and the very local.
Leading edge companies are beginning to recognise this fact and to view their employees not just as workers but as individuals with something to contribute and as members of the community. More broadly, more and more companies recognise that what happens to business matters to the rest of society and that what happens to society matters to business.
I wonder then, whether as more firms commit to Investors in People, it should not follow that they give equal attention to becoming an investor in the community? Perhaps we should now consider developing a code of practice which recognises excellence in company involvement in the community? Maybe this is an idea which the TEC National Council and Business in the Community might discuss and then let me know what they think? But I hardly need say that I would expect a standard just as rigorous as that for Investors in People!
Mr Chairman, may I conclude by wishing all of you every success. This has clearly been an exciting conference; I hope that you leave Birmingham reinvigorated and stimulated by your discussions and the exchange of fresh ideas. I very much look forward to following your progress in the coming years.