I am only too aware from my experience with young people at The Prince's Trust that building confidence and self-esteem is key. Without this magic ingredient it is virtually impossible to progress into employment - or survive once you are in it.

I'm delighted to welcome you here. And particular thanks to Rory Bremner who has broken off a holiday to be here.

Business in the Community's Homelessness Campaign has been running since 1998. As many of you will know to your cost, we used my 'Seeing is Believing' Programme to take over 200 business leaders into the community to see for themselves the problems facing homeless people.

I know that it was a visit of this sort which encouraged many of the companies which we have recognised today to become involved. I am delighted that John Varley (Group Finance Director of Barclays Bank) led a visit to the Passage this morning, a project I have visited before and for which I have the highest regard.

I am particularly pleased to see how Darren, a client of the Passage, has made such enormous strides in KPMG, despite sleeping on the street. On behalf of all of us, I do want to congratulate him and all those whom we have celebrated today.

For those of you from the business community who, before this morning, might have been wondering if this programme is worthwhile, I am sure that what you have heard will have changed your minds.

And there is so much you can do. Bain have done some research which shows that, in London alone, there are 1,800 employable homeless who are currently not in work and a further 10,000 who could, with the right support, be employable with your help.

I am only too aware from my experience with young people at The Prince's Trust that building confidence and self-esteem is key. Without this magic ingredient it is virtually impossible to progress into employment - or survive once you are in it. Social enterprises, like Aspire - incidentally a Prince's Trust business - which are competitive businesses employing only disadvantaged people, including homeless people, are one way to create that sense of self-worth and instil confidence in a more secure working environment.

But another is to ensure that homeless people are more adequately prepared for work in mainstream companies before they start. The worst thing that can happen to people who have already had enough knocks in their lives is to find a job and then lose it, just because they were not quite ready for it.

I know that homeless agencies already do some preparation work of this kind, but perhaps we can serve homeless people better if employers play a part too. So I could not be more pleased that KPMG and Barclays, two companies at the forefront of our action on homelessness, are to establish and lead a pilot pre-employment preparation programme across the UK. Their employees will run courses explaining the expectations of employers, such as turning up on time, as well as helping prepare CVs and running mock interviews. I do look forward to hearing the results of this initiative.

Other companies here today are also in the vanguard of a new approach to tackling homelessness. Marks and Spencer have already proved their commitment and they have been properly rewarded today. And I am delighted that they have decided to extend their involvement by offering 600 homeless people two weeks' work experience in 12 different cities. I do congratulate M&S and I hope that where they lead many others will follow.

It is still a little known fact that 25% of homeless people are ex-servicemen - and this is something which has particularly concerned me for some time now, having come across this fact while visiting hostels around the country. The causes are not straightforward but I do feel deeply that more needs to be done to help those who have already given so much to their country get back into work and play a useful part in society again.

I visited a centre for homeless ex-servicemen last November where I met Marcus Williams who received an award a moment ago. He had just been on a Ready for Work placement and I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see him today with a full-time job thanks to Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer. So I am delighted to announce that the Ministry of Defence, along with BiTC, Rolls Royce, British Aerospace and Coutts, will be running a training and work placement programme especially designed for ex-servicemen who are currently homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

But the big challenge now, as we have heard, is to get more people into long-term employment and to help homeless people break the homelessness cycle - without a fixed address a job applicant does not even make it onto a long list for a job, let alone reach interview stage. A new idea is required and John Studzinski has had it!

Working in partnership with Reed On-Line and Centrepoint Streets Ahead, BiTC is launching today the first online job brokerage service called Ready For Jobs. It will be piloted in London and then rolled out nationally, with a target of 100 companies advertising jobs on it within the next year.

I have had a demonstration earlier today and I think it has huge potential. There are already over 40 jobs on any given day, but the number could be far bigger if all of you join the scheme. There are 700 member companies of Business in the Community in the UK. If each one set certain paying jobs aside and entered them into the Job Bank on a regular basis, that would be a powerful new start to getting the homeless back to work.

You have seen for yourselves just how valuable homeless people can be to companies once they have been given the chance to get back on their feet. I do so hope that you will go back to your company and think how you could open up appropriate vacancies to people like Marcus, Darren and the others here today.

Thank you for coming, and a particular thanks to all those who have taken part today, and to the Goring Hotel for kindly putting up some of the award winners last night, to the companies who have already done so much, in particular Bain & Company, Publicis and Brunswick for all their pro bono support, and to John, Eva and the Business Action on Homelessness Team, to Rory and, of course, to the homeless people here today who have done so much to open our eyes.