A Positive Agenda for Young People
Rob Wilson's keynote speech at the Ambition National Conference
I’m delighted to be here today, and to see so many familiar faces in the room. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a good number of you before, and to see for myself how your work supports and inspires young people to make the most of opportunities and go as far as their talents can take them.
The best thing about my job in government is the chance it gives me to meet young people and witness first hand their talent and creativity. It also allows me to see the fantastic work many of you do with those young people.
This government is committed to creating a Britain that works for everyone and that, most of all for me, means young people. I want all young people, regardless of their background or circumstances, to lead independent, fulfilling lives and to reach their true potential.
We all know how a lack of confidence, of not feeling good enough, of just not getting a chance, can hold people back and stop them reaching their true potential.
I don’t want that to happen to young people today and neither do you. Together we can make sure young people have their say on matters that concern them, act on their interest or passion and develop the skills they need to succeed.
All of us in this room share a huge responsibility. Everyone here is tasked with making a positive difference to the lives of our young people. To equip them for challenges, some of which may be familiar to us and others much more novel. A world so connected provides young people with huge opportunity but also many challenges and some danger.
I want us to build a society where young people feel appreciated and want to give back to their communities, because they understand just how much their communities value them. Where they have high aspirations for their own life and feel their views and opinions matter.
We know that’s not true for everyone and I’m passionately committed to changing that.
It’s why I’ve recently announced £80million of new investment in youth projects. This joint funding between Government and the Big Lottery Fund will drive our twin ambitions for young people going forward.
First to support young people, especially those in the most challenging circumstances to grow in confidence and ambition.
Secondly, to encourage all young people to find ways of contributing to society and make their views heard in their communities as well as across Government.
So let me talk first about how government and civil society can support those young people who need our help the most and the ones we need to reach out to first.
The Youth Investment Fund targets disadvantaged communities and will support place based youth activity in local areas. Funding is available up to 2020 to deliver open access services and help organisations invest and plan for the future. We have had to make choices about where to prioritise this initial investment but I believe we’ve made the right ones.
I hope and intend this to be only the first wave of the fund, and it will attract even more investment from local organisations, businesses and philanthropists.
A further £40million will go towards the second part of our vision, to support young people’s personal growth through positive engagement in our communities. The #iwill Fund, which is part of our on-going support of Step Up To Serve’s ‘#iwill’ campaign, will encourage volunteering in young people and instil it as a habit for life.
By helping others, by tackling other people’s problems, our young people feel empowered to take charge of their own lives and can see that their actions have an impact.
In giving, they receive so much back.
The Uniformed Youth Social Action Fund is a good recent example. With a little help from government investment, Youth United have successfully created over 27,000 new uniformed places, including in the Fire Cadets and St John Ambulance.
90% of the units created two years ago are still running, with no additional grant funding required. They are also engaging more people from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities, young offenders and those who have English as their second language.
Let me say again, it’s the people who need our help the most that we must reach out to first. And we should provide the opportunity for all young people to give back and speak out.
But there is one programme we want to be a single, unifying rite of passage for young people across the whole country - because it so embodies what we’ve set out to do - and that is National Citizen Service.
Over 275,000 young people have taken part since the NCS programme began, and independent evaluation shows that it has given them a great head start in life. It teaches them resilience and leadership skills and better prepares them for the future.
In my view, the best thing about NCS is that it draws in young people from every background and brings them together, to live and work as a united team. It’s what government wants for this country - social cohesion, social mobility and social engagement.
Let me tell you about Carlton Bolling School in Bradford. A school that has over half the pupils eligible for free school meals. A school where the majority of the pupil’s parents don’t speak English at home.
This summer, 85 Year 11 & 12 students enrolled onto NCS; the highest figure in Yorkshire and one of the highest in the country. In the words of the Head Teacher Adrian Kneeshaw, not only do our children return more confident, resilient and eager to learn but they are often much more eager to volunteer and help out in their local community.”
Evidence like this that motivates me every day and it’s why I am so pleased to have recently introduced the NCS Bill to Parliament. It should bring NCS to the notice of even more young people and encourage them to get involved. It will also ensure the NCS Trust works efficiently, effectively and transparently.
What has really struck me through the course of this bill is the support NCS commands across all political parties and interests. We have to spread the news of NCS to all those disadvantaged young people who would stand to gain from it the most.
I am delighted that Ambition and others here today have signed up to the NCS Trust’s Pathfinders programme. This means we can draw on your experience, reach, creativity and commitment to test innovative and more flexible ways of getting the best from NCS. It is a much-needed step forward and I thank you for your support.
But our eagerness to work hand in hand with the youth sector doesn’t extend only to NCS. Everything we want to do we can do much more effectively with your help and support. Your knowledge, your expertise can help make so much difference.
One of the highlights of my year is taking part in the UK Youth Parliament, when young people debate issues they care about and tell me all the things I’m doing wrong.
It is inspiring to see the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence of the speakers. Reassuring too - not only that our future is in such good hands, but that our policy of supporting and encouraging young people to be the best they can be really works. Give them the opportunity and young people shine.
This year they are set to debate; education reform, racial and religious discrimination, public transport, votes at 16 and the future of the health service. Now whatever your politics you can’t help but be impressed by that agenda.
The future we build today is theirs to inherit tomorrow therefore it is right that they should have a say on how it is shaped. That’s why I’m pleased we are talking regularly to the Department for Exiting the European Union to make sure young people do not go unheard.
It’s also why we’re arranging a Ministerial roundtable with organisations working in youth voice. This will help us to plan a process through which young people’s views are represented and they can tell DExEU what their priorities are.
Of course this time of change isn’t only unnerving for the young, I know many of you in the youth sector will be feeling a little unsettled. But it is in times of change that we get to show our real strengths - in how we adapt and embrace opportunity.
If we work together, if we are innovative, if we keep a relentless focus on the needs of young people we will be successful and make good progress.
I was pleased to see Ambition promote this forward-thinking in its recent ‘Count Me In’ paper, recognising that effective and collaborative services can really make a difference to young people, even in challenging times.
I’m thinking, for example, of the Wayz Youth Club in Bracknell. When their funding came under threat they formed cross-sector partnerships with housing associations, corporates and others to support a long-term strategy for young people in the local area. It is exactly this sort of innovative leadership and readiness to adapt and change that we all could learn from.
We all know there is less public money to go around, and what we have needs to be spent in a way we know makes the most difference.
That means a focus on reaching those who need it most and, crucially, helping the organisations you represent to broaden and diversify funding.
This means looking at a wider range of options for funding. For example, using philanthropy, trusts and charitable funds, social investment, direct fundraising and private sector support to build a more sustainable funding environment.
We know plenty of private organisations out there share your belief in the potential of young people. By demonstrating your capability, by showing them the real impact your work has, you can tap into this vital funding and transform even more young lives.
Of course we in Government will support you. I hope everyone here has benefited from the work of the Centre for Youth Impact. If not, get in touch. By understanding the impact of your services we can continually improve their performance.
There is so much to look forward to in this sector. Indeed, I’m delighted to announce that over the coming months we’ll be developing a new youth policy statement. This statement will bring together a clear narrative and vision for how we best help our young people.
It will highlight the opportunities that come with our move to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - how we can use our new position to give young people a greater engagement with our sporting and cultural heritage.
We want to benefit from your insights and wisdom. This new statement should draw on your experiences and celebrate the innovative work that is already happening.
I’m keen for it to act as a road map until at least 2020 and to show where this Government is heading with youth policy, so you can see where to work with us along the way.
More than anything I want the statement to be a commitment to every young person. That we will help them pursue their passions, lead happy, independent lives and feel an active, engaged and valued part of their communities.