It’s wonderful to be here with you in the Olympic Park.
Last time I was here was in 2012 for Super Saturday, when Team GB brought home a clutch of medals. Usain Bolt was cementing his place as the best ever sprinter on earth. This place seemed like the centre of the world – and played host to so much hope, anticipation and celebration. So it’s great to see so many young people here today, helping recapture that energy and excitement.
I once ran 100 metres in under 11 seconds. So I hope that my speech today feels like a sprint rather than a marathon.
I’ve been Minister for Civil Society for just over a month, but as a parent and an MP I see the fantastic things that young people and youth organisations do all the time.
My own son was in the Cubs and played for local youth football teams and my daughter was in the Brownies. They loved the sense of adventure and the opportunity to be outdoors and I saw how their character and confidence grew.
Every year I interact with local members of the UK Youth Parliament and Reading’s Youth Cabinet. Young people may not be interested in party politics but on the issues that matter to them they’re passionate and informed, which is why we’ve worked on many local campaigns together.
And recently I had the privilege of attending a reception marking the 15th anniversary of the Diana Awards. While I was there I met a fantastic young man from Cardiff called Kyle and presented him with an award. Kyle gets up at 6am every day so he can do a few hours’ work at a local grocery shop before college starts. His parents recently separated, and Kyle is helping look after his young brother and sister.
Neither of these things is particularly uncommon – lots of young people have to juggle work, home and education. But the remarkable thing about Kyle is that he did all these things and still found time to do 500 hours volunteering a year to help younger children – many with behavioural or learning difficulties – with their literacy and numeracy skills.
Here’s a young man who’s had to grow up quickly – but still finds time to give something back. Kyle’s example is another powerful vindication of young people today and for me this was a great introduction to youth policy.
So as Minister for Civil Society, I’m committed to bringing national and local government together, along with civil society and businesses, to give young people in this country the best possible opportunities to succeed.
The UK can be a great place in which to grow up. We’ve got free healthcare and excellent schools. We enjoy fantastic cultural and sporting opportunities – including superb facilities like the one we’re in today. The UK has some of the best universities in the world. And more and more businesses are offering apprenticeships for young people who want to get ahead in the world of work. So it’s crucial that we continue to help all young people take advantage of these opportunities, regardless of their background and circumstances.
And I’d like to thank everybody here today involved with supporting young people. It involves a lot of hard work and I know it can be extremely challenging at times but it really does matter. Because by training and supporting, encouraging and inspiring - or sometimes just by listening – you can change lives.
So let me assure you that this government recognises the importance of your work, and the contribution you make to young people in this country.
I know these have been tough times. The funding situation is tight. Local councils have had some difficult decisions to make. Sadly this has had a knock-on effect on the wider youth sector.
But I want to work with you to ensure that young people continue to have the support they need. I have 3 priorities.
The first is to ensure opportunities continue to exist outside school and college for young people to prepare for adult life, whether it’s developing their skills for work, gaining confidence and the ability to bounce back when something goes wrong or simply learning the importance of helping others.
We’re lucky in the UK to have so many organisations dedicated to working with young people. It’s an interesting fact that 11 out of the 12 people to walk on the moon belonged to the Scouts when they were younger.
We want young people to aim for the skies – or even the stars – and these kinds of organisations can help them on their way. So I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to support uniformed youth organisations, with £10 million raised through the Libor fines.
I’m also proud to support the #iwill campaign, led by Step Up To Serve, which aims to double the number of young people taking part in social action by 2020.
National Citizen Service is one valuable part of this. In the summer I met young people taking part in NCS in my constituency and learnt about the social action projects they were developing around issues like organ donation, body image, mental health and self-harming. In total more than 100,000 young people have now taken part in the programme and they’ve given some 2 million hours of service to their communities.
However, NCS isn’t the only part, and we need to do more to bring schools, local authorities, businesses and youth organisations together to provide opportunities for young people.
My second priority is to ensure young people’s voices are heard.
Earlier this month we saw a record turnout, 865,000 votes cast by 11 to 18 year olds across the country in the annual Make Your Mark Ballot, up by 81% compared to last year.
The ballot gives young people a say on what the Youth Parliament discusses in its annual House of Commons session, which will take place in a few days’ time. I’m looking forward to meeting them and hearing them debate these issues at length.
It’s also important that we allow young people to play a role in shaping the services they use, both at local and national levels. Listening shouldn’t be a gesture – it’s a way of ensuring our policies and services meet their actual needs – as opposed to what adults sitting in Whitehall or town halls think they need.
From a national perspective, I have asked my officials to explore ways government can get better at listening to young people when developing policy. I know there’s some great work going on in the youth sector to understand what young people most value and I want government to learn from this.
My third priority is to help youth services adapt to become more resilient. Even though growth is returning, austerity, sadly, isn’t going to disappear any time soon. At the same time future governments – whatever their political persuasion – will always be faced with new pressures and more demands.
This means we can’t just rely on more money for youth services – we need to find better ways of doing things. So I’m pleased that one of the themes of this conference is ‘innovation and impact’.
I’m a small businessman by background. I believe the power of enterprise and innovation to find creative solutions to problems and develop better ways of doing things. Policies like payment-by-results and social investment are creating new opportunities for civil society.
We need you to be involved because government can’t do it alone. Civil society organisations are sometimes much closer to the people we want to help. They can be more responsive and can tailor services around the needs of communities and individuals many times better than government can.
Frontline London is a great example of the public, private sectors coming together with civil society to help change lives for the better. It was set up a year ago after an Evening Standard investigation into street gangs. The scheme is supporting 10 young Londoners to turn around their lives by becoming social entrepreneurs. The School for Social Entrepreneurs, a charity, is managing the project with £50,000 of funding from the Cabinet Office. Lloyds Banking Group is providing a further £100,000 together with business mentoring and training.
Whether setting up a martial arts gym or running workshops with local schools, these entrepreneurs are inspirational and – with a little help – they are, I hope, going to achieve great things.
We know that some local authorities are already exploring new models for delivering youth services involving these kinds of partnerships.
So we must make sure the lessons from these initiatives are shared because I want organisations working with young people to be able to benefit from – and contribute to – this transformation.
For this to happen, youth organisations need to able to show how they change the lives of the people they work with. It’s not enough to rely on good intentions; nowadays all organisations need to be able to demonstrate the impact of their work. This isn’t some onerous box-ticking exercise imposed from above. It’s about providing the highest quality opportunities for young people. And helping youth organisations promote the impact of their work to commissioners and decision makers.
You’ve told us that good work is going on to improve evidence in different places across the sector, but also that much of it happens in an inconsistent way.
So I’m pleased that the Cabinet Office is supporting the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, Project Oracle and the Social Research Unit to launch the Centre for Youth Impact today. It will be a central point for information and resources, and guidance and support to use them.
This will help youth organisations demonstrate and increase the impact of their work and will provide commissioners with greater evidence to make more effective decisions. And it will leave the sector as a whole in a far better position to adapt to changes in funding and commissioning that are coming through.
So, in conclusion:
I want to ensure young people get the best possible support in the future.
That means finding new and better ways of doing things to ensure that every penny we spend on youth services – and every minute that youth workers dedicate to helping young people – can have maximum impact. So where local authorities and youth organisations are exploring new ways of working I’ll back you to the hilt.
So please keep working with us, so we can understand what’s working and what’s not – not only between now and the general election, but to help inform the priorities for the next Parliament.
Thank you – and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.