Welcome to this, our first, Positive for Youth Summit. Thank you Susanne. And thank you to everyone at the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services for the extremely hard work and amount of time that I know you have put into organising today’s event. I’d also like to thank Jack Rowley from the British Youth Council who will be leading much of today’s proceedings and who I know will do a fantastic job of ensuring everything runs beautifully.
Thanks too to Aviva and O2 for their support not only of today’s event, but also for the shining example both organisations continue to set to the wider business community, through their practical and positive commitment to the wellbeing of Britain’s young people.
And to all of you who are here today, I believe that we are now at the start of something that is very new and very exciting and very positive for our young people. I’m proud to be here as the minister responsible for young people - a job that I can only do with the buy-in of young people themselves, and by making sure they are at the heart of all our decision making.
Which is what today’s summit is all about of course. And although we’ve only just opened, there’s already a real buzz of energy and ideas, that is extending beyond this room through the tweeting that’s going on.
But the activity isn’t surprising, because this is such an important and a unique event.
Unique, because although there have been events around young people before, and although there have been events for ministers from different departments before, this is the first time we’ve brought together ministers from right across Government, to work alongside businesses, the voluntary sector and young people - in order to focus solely on youth, and be positive for youth. And that is a real achievement.
So, we have ministers and officials here from the Department for Education, Home Office, Department for Health, Cabinet Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Defence.
And the reason we are all here today is to work together more closely, so that we can create a policy for youth that will be sustainable for the long term, that will be practically achievable, and that has the positive endorsement and buy-in of young people.
This means that we’ll be looking at how we can make all our services for children and young people better. For example, with the Department of Health we’ll be looking at how to address issues such as binge drinking, risky sexual behaviour, and how the new mental health strategy will affect young people.
With the Home Office we’ll be looking at how young people can avoid getting involved in crime - and avoid being victims of crime. With the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills we’ll be looking at how we help young people to prepare for and find work.
But today is also about how we can help young people become responsible citizens, who will themselves be able and willing to serve others in their community, and in turn to get the respect of society and communities that too often has been lacking.
Because it’s also about how we can restore the trust that over the years seems to have eroded between generations. So we want to look at how we counter the negative images of young people that have become so prevalent, and that are so far from the truth of the vast majority of our teenagers.
And how we can make the detractors, who generalise so sweepingly about Britain’s youth, eat their words.
If we are to rebuild bridges between old and young, if we are to turn around popular misconceptions to create a more positive society that is positive towards youth, we will need to make a real joined-up effort. That means Government, businesses, voluntary sector, local authorities and the media, all working together. And right at the heart of it, young people themselves.
We have to give young people a strong voice. We have to allow them to participate actively in decisions that affect them. Given they represent 20 per cent of the population, it is only right that we do. In the past we may have tried to wrap young people up in cotton wool too much - and we haven’t done them any favours by it.
So older people have to start trusting young people again - and we have to start listening to each other even when we don’t always agree with each other. Because that’s all part and parcel of a mature relationship. And in my experience, when you make that leap of faith, young people will repay your respect and trust in spades.
So, naturally, I am really happy to see so many young people here today. I want you to influence and test our policies. I want you to make your voices heard today, and in the future when we meet for more discussions.
And when I’ve listened to what you say, I’m going to produce a draft of proposals that I will then give back to you to inspect - so that you can pull it to pieces if you like, and really let me know what you think of it - before I produce the final policy document. Which will be a picture of what we want the future to look like for you, for young people, and a plan of how we get there. And which will be different from previous documents that may have been high in gloss but low in actual content from the people they’re intended for.
We’ve already got a lot going on behind the scenes. As well as regular roundtable meetings with young people, I’ve set up different groups with leading lights in business, local authorities and the voluntary sector, all of whom are keen to promote young people’s interests.
And, of course, you can’t hope to change public perceptions without involving the media, so we’re building relationships with the big players there too. And if it means we’ll get to see more programmes along the lines of the excellent series on BBC 2 at the moment, When Teenage Meets Old Age, it will be a more than worthwhile investment of our time. If you haven’t seen this programme yet, I highly recommend you try and catch the final episode next Monday.
But, to return to the immediate issues at hand, and a more serious note. We’re all very aware that youth services are under a great deal of pressure at the moment. And in straitened economic times, youth services are sadly bearing the brunt of many cuts. That is the unfortunate reality we face and there is no ducking it.
So what we have to do, to ensure that we come through this stronger, is think smarter about the way we work. And the way to do that is to think about the kind of partnerships we might create. So we would like to see, for example, local authorities working hand-in-hand with business, with social enterprise groups, with the voluntary sector, with the education sector and of course with young people.
We want to see more pooling of resources to get better value for money, and more collaboration to find out what works best. And we want to see a commitment to share smart new ideas so that innovation and good practice spread further afield and benefit even more young people. And in all of that, services will be designed not just for, but by, young people.
In Government, we have to think about how we target the limited public funds at our disposal. And there is no doubt in my mind that our priority has to be the most disadvantaged young people in our society. In particular I’m looking to set up a Youth Action Group with representatives from a small number of big organisations, and with ministers from seven departments of Government, to inform the development of Government policies and their impact on young people most in need.
In short, I think we can sum up our vision for the future of youth and youth services under four principles.
First and foremost is the positive and active role we want for young people. And I urge young people, if you can, to continue to get involved with youth councils, youth mayors and the Youth Parliament - all good ways of giving yourselves a louder, more effective voice in society.
Then, if the first principle is about young people’s responsibility to themselves, the second is about the responsibility of local communities to young people. There are already some great examples of excellent community projects led by volunteers and socially responsible businesses.
And there is an appetite for more of these. Indeed, tomorrow we’ll be launching the second round of National Citizen Service pilots, creating more opportunities for organisations to come together, and offering 30,000 more places to young people who want to take part in the programme.
And our reforms to the criminal records and vetting and barring procedures send a clear signal to volunteers who want to give their time that they are welcomed and encouraged, not immediately suspected as potential abusers.
The third principle is to target funding that prioritises the most vulnerable children and young people and focuses on quality outcomes. And the fourth is about achieving a greater diversity of service providers, to get the best value for money and to support growth in the voluntary sector.
How these principles will take colour and shape as the day progresses is entirely up to you of course. I’m delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister will be making his keynote speech later on, and he will have many more positive things to say.
But the point of today is to get us all round the table to talk about these issues. And for those who aren’t here to take part in the conversation via Twitter. In this way we will flesh out some ideas for a future that is really positive for youth.
So it’s not for me to keep you from this important business any longer, and without further ado I’m going to quit the stage and wish you - us - all, a very happy and productive day.