It is the greatest possible pleasure to see you all here this evening at the Albert Hall. And since I've been involved with Business in the Community for very nearly thirty years, it is extraordinary to see quite so many people when I think how small it all was when it first started. 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 of course, at the precise time I think that the World Cup semi final is taking place. So perhaps dinner might 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 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 kind words and for the extraordinary amount of time and effort he puts in as Chair of Business in the Community. I could now go on and name all the other people who have made huge efforts on behalf of this remarkable organisation 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 £200m 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 injured, 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 targeted 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.
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're also supporting my Countryside Fund. So if I may say so, they're 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 tied together. One cannot succeed without the other. For the three of them to flourish we must create a more cirular and genuinely sustainainable economy. The recent flooding events across Great Britain demonstrate how vulnerable our economies and communities can be. I've seen the effects of this first hand after floods in places like Braunston, Yalding, the Somerset Levels, which I actually visited only today to see how people are recovering from the after-effects. And 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 BT, Rob Townend of Aviva, Huw Davies of Wates and George Cook of the Cook Foundation. It is, ladies and genetlemen, corporate responsibility at its best.
Central to this, and one of the biggest differences the corporate sector can make, is the creation of employment and the economic independence that enables individuals to contribute fully to the community in which they live.
Jaguar Land Rover 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. And incidentally, quite how he got that Jaguar and the Land Rover in here is quite remarkable.
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 – they are my Ambassadors.
Those 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 rely on my Regional Ambassadors a great deal and am pleased that their appointments have been announced at the various regional events, but 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 want to thank 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. And he's 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's 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 taking part, including HSBC, Accenture, BT and Diageo. The scheme aimed at getting long term unemployed people into work plans to reach 100,000 young people over the next 18 months. It has the backing of the TUC 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 great pleasure to announce that my National Ambassador for 2014 is Marc Bolland, CEO of Marks and Spencer.