I can’t think of a more encouraging sign that Business in the Community is in robust good health than that so many of you should want to come here to celebrate the achievements of responsible businesses in this very public way

It is the greatest possible pleasure to see you all here this evening in the Albert Hall.  I can’t think of a more encouraging sign that Business in the Community is in robust good health than that so many of you should want to come here to celebrate the achievements of responsible businesses in this very public way and at the precise time of the World Cup semi-final!  (Perhaps dinner will be over in record time?!).   

After thirty-two years (and I have to admit that I have been President for twenty-nine of them) this is an organization well into its second generation, so I am proud, delighted and amazed, if I do say so, that my own next generation has decided to accompany me here me this evening.  (Perhaps curiosity has finally got the better of them?).  Whatever the case, I hope they will be as inspired as I always am at seeing how responsible businesses are delivering solutions to the hugely challenging and intractable issues facing our society.

Before I go any further, I do want to thank Mark Price for his incredibly kind words and for the extraordinary amount of time and huge effort he puts in as Chairman of Business in the Community.  I could, of course, now go on and name all the other people who have made huge efforts on behalf of this remarkable organization during the past year.  But to save time I hope you will allow me to offer a collective and heartfelt "thank you".  You know who you are.  And I know who you are!  But I also know you would all want me to thank the staff team, in particular, for their tireless work supporting all of you in your membership and for the exemplary way they run all the many programmes that we ask them to deliver. 

 This time last year, Marks & Spencer, as Company of the Year, and in partnership with Business in the Community and Accenture, published the hugely important and influential report, ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’. It outlined the £200million market opportunity that is available in the United Kingdom for those ‘brave’ businesses that take up the sustainability challenge.  Since then, I have been delighted to see the way that Business in the Community and my Accounting for Sustainability programme have been working together to find new ways of demonstrating to the investment world the economic value that comes from sustainability. 

But that isn’t what I want to talk about this evening!  Instead, I want to look at a situation, which is just as big a concern to my sons as it is to me, where fortune very often does NOT favour the brave.  And that is in the opportunities available to our troops when they return home and seek employment outside the Armed Forces.  In this extraordinary venue, which hosts the annual Festival of Remembrance, it is easy to remember the bravery of our service men and women, and to understand how much they can offer to prospective employers in civilian life.  Loyalty, integrity, teamwork and the ability to work calmly and with discipline and good humour under intense pressure are qualities that any business must surely value highly.  But the transition is by no means easy, and we should not pretend it is, even for the able-bodied.  For those who have been wounded, of course, the difficulties are greater still.

So it is enormously encouraging to find companies like Jaguar Land Rover not just tackling unemployment amongst young people generally, but making a real and targetted effort to support our troops as they return to civilian life.  The extent of their commitment to providing practical training and job offers is remarkable and I hope many other companies will follow their lead.  The extent of their commitment to providing practical training and job offers is extraordinary and I hope many other companies will follow their lead.  

Jaguar Land Rover are also presenting the Invictus Games for wounded, injured and sick service men and women, in London this September.  It is a cause to which my son, Harry, is devoting a lot of his time and I know he is as impressed as I am by the level of commitment being shown by the company and all the many other supporters who are giving their time to make the games a success.  And it doesn't stop there with Jaguar Land Rover as they are also supporting my Countryside Fund.  (They are certainly earning their warrant!).  

Ladies and gentlemen, the message at the heart of Business in the Community is very simple - the prosperity of business and society and the whole of the natural environment on which we depend for our ultimate survival, are intimately tied together. One cannot succeed without the other.  For the three of them to flourish we must create a more "circular" and genuinely sustainable economy.  The recent flooding events across Great Britain demonstrate how vulnerable our economies and communities can be.  I have seen the effects of this first-hand, after floods in places like Braunton, Yalding and the Somerset Levels, which I actually revisited only today, to see how people are recovering from the after-effects.  I wanted, if I may, to use this occasion to say how enormously grateful I am to the members of my Business Emergency Recovery Group which has mobilised vital assistance in these and other cases, and I would just like to extend my thanks to some of those individuals involved, such as Mike Still of Marsh, Doug Turner of B.T., Rob Townend of Aviva, Huw Davies of Wates and George Cook of The Cook Foundation.  It is, Ladies and Gentlemen, corporate responsibility at its best.

Central to this, and one of the biggest differences the corporate sector can make, is the development of the skills needed to fill the skills gaps and create the employment and economic independence that enable individuals to contribute fully to the community in which they live.  J.L.R. is an inspiring example of a company that has placed the development and recruitment of talent at the heart of their approach to sustainability and innovation. They powerfully demonstrate why employers must look for new ways to unlock talent the extra steps they must take to find it and, most importantly, what they must do to ensure that their own practices do not disadvantage talented individuals because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.  So I couldn’t be more pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate Dr Ralph Speth for his leadership of this year’s Responsible Business of the Year.

Now I know that many of you have a particular interest in finding out who has won all of the other awards.  I have to say that I have seen all the entries, and you have a lot to be proud of though I don’t envy the judges! but I will have to ask you to be patient just a little longer, because even after thirty two years, and with all that Business in the Community is achieving with your help, there is still a huge amount to be done.  And I want to say a few words about the people I rely on most to make things happen and they are my Ambassadors.

My Ambassadors are individuals who are recognised for driving the responsible business movement through the actions they take in their own workplace, as well as the actions they take personally through the roles they play in society. 

I do rely on my Regional Ambassadors a great deal and am very pleased that their appointments have been announced at the various regional events, but it is nice to have a chance to thank them all here this evening as well.

My National Ambassador for the last two years has been Steve Holliday of National Grid and I am immensely grateful to him for the enormous amount of personal support he has given me over that time.  Steve has been a powerful advocate of tackling the scourge of youth unemployment and an inspiring Ambassador he is also rather good at making connections, occasionally without charging!

My Ambassador this year is a passionate believer in the long-term value of investing in sustainability.  He has shown that he can make it happen in his own business and I believe he will inspire many more business leaders to do the same. He has worked closely with my Prince's Trust to set up Movement to Work, a training scheme based on The Trust's successful Get Into programme. More than fifteen major corporates are now taking part, including H.S.B.C., Accenture, B.T. and Diageo. The scheme, aimed at getting long-term unemployed young people into work, plans to reach 100,000 young people over the next eighteen months.  It has the backing of the T.U.C. and of Government and I cannot possibly thank such an exemplary ambassador enough.  I also hope he will work with me and my regional Ambassadors to persuade employers from across the country, and in every sector, to offer real assistance and opportunities to our ex-military servicemen and women.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me enormous pleasure to announce that my National Ambassador for 2014 is Marc Bolland, C.E.O. of Marks and Spencer.