The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Percent Club – 19 October 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Percent Club in London on Tuesday 19th October 1993.


Mr Chairman, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. Not since the heyday of the Two Ronnies have I seen the Humphrey and John show equalled. I am not sure whether it is going to become an institutional part of this particular occasion but I rather suspect that it well might.

I am delighted to have the opportunity of being here today. It is around two years now since I last spoke on volunteering to business in the community. They have not, I know, been an easy two years for business. And yet despite that, despite the difficulties self-evident and not needed to be spelt out, many businesses, many present tonight have still increased their support for voluntary activity. I believe that is a very great tribute to your commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for it. It illustrates at the outset that I need not spend my time this evening seeking to persuade this audience that business should support the voluntary sector, indeed that is the very fibre and being of the Percent Club.

A week or so ago in another place I said that over the last 30 years or so we have been in danger of losing sight of some old fundamental truths. I stand by every bit of that, I believe that very strongly, and I want to see us reassert those old instinctive values, refresh them and place them precisely where I believe they belong, at the very heart of our national character. And they are there to reawaken, because as I said also at the time, all across the country, decency, neighbourliness, consideration for others, remains there in abundance. And nowhere perhaps is that truer than in the voluntary world. About one million people are involved in managing voluntary activities. About one half of all the adults in this country take some part in organised voluntary work. Some three in four lend a helping hand to friends and neighbours, and literally millions upon millions of people have benefited from that help year after year after year.

They are people we all know, old people who cannot get about, who depend on volunteers to do the shopping, provide a meal or give them a night out. Children at risk of violence or abuse who have been helped by Childline or by the NSPCC. Desperate people who need someone to talk to who perhaps have phoned the Samaritans or been sheltered by the Salvation Army. Victims of crime who have found comfort and help from Victim Support. Or those perhaps whose last months of life have been spent in the warmth and comfort of a local hospice.

To the lives of each and every person touched by that form of voluntary endeavour, the work of that silent army of volunteers makes a huge difference to their quality of life. And I believe myself that the fact that that help is voluntary, not provided by state servants, adds an extra dimension of affection to the People who receive that help and who often are in bad need of affection.

Day after day the national news brings its tales of selfishness, violence and hooliganism. But if you strip that to one side and you look at what actually happens in our communities. look at any local paper and you will find People, young and old, doing what they have always done, fund raising, volunteering, helping their neighbours and doing so on a scale myself that I believe is greater than ever before. And that is the real face of Britain, the face of Britain that is so rarely paraded for public acknowledgement, but ought to be, regularly, as an example to everyone.

There is nothing new or odd about that help by those millions of people, and there is nothing new about business being involved either. The roots of the Percent Club go right back to the great industrial philanthropists of the 19th century, Rowntree, Cadbury, the Wedgwoods, many others, People who believe just as much in the moral and social role of commerce as they did in profits and in markets. And that is the acceptable face of capitalism, responsible capitalism.

Those of you who are here today prove that modern business leaders have precisely the same vision in the 20th century that their forebears had so many years before. You are at the forefront of British industry’s huge contribution to the wider community. You are here this evening, but of course there are thousands more like you in each and every part of Britain.

And what do we want to see? I believe that all of us want to see even more businesses widening the scope of their contribution to the community, not just in giving to charities, important of course though that is, but also in seconding staff to voluntary bodies and getting involved directly in voluntary work. I believe that business experience, business skills, can and should enrich nearly every aspect of society. And that is why we set up new bodies to harness the energies and skills of local businessmen and others – training and enterprise councils, local enterprise agencies, grant maintained schools, a national health service trust amongst others – they offer new challenges and new opportunities for businesses to make a direct contribution and to raise their profile locally.

In schools for example, one of many examples one could provide, the voice of business, of experience, of practical knowledge, can make a. vital difference to the success of the City Technology College initiative, it has done in many parts of the country. A good businessman on the governing body can get the very best out of a school’s resources and he, that businessman, will know better than anyone else what work experience and skills the future job seekers are going to need. And so he uses his skills not just to enrich his company, but to enrich his community and by that I believe we all benefit.

The last decade has been a remarkable decade but amongst the many things that are so often trotted out when one looks back through that tunnel of a remarkable 10 years, what people I believe so often overlook is the remarkable sea-change in people’s perception of private capitalism and enterprise. It was a decade of massive growth in sponsorship, sponsorship by business of the arts, of sport, of individuals, of charities, and of voluntary activities.

More businesses now accept they have a broader responsibility to the wider community and not just to shareholders and customers. And not only do they accept it, they are increasingly ready to act upon it and speak about it and that is very refreshing indeed.

And as a result private enterprise attracts nothing like the venom and nastiness that once it did. Today most people will recognise and acknowledge that profitable business is the foundation stone of a free and healthy society, they are increasingly aware of the contribution business makes through sponsorship and direct involvement in voluntary activities. And attitudes have changed also towards voluntary work.

A decade ago there was a malign and malicious argument, and it went broadly like this, it was an argument that many people advanced. It was the argument that many people still saw the existence of a voluntary sector as a challenge and as a reproach to the state. I believe that was an absurd proposition. However well, however caring, however much the richest and best organised state can provide, there will always be more that can be provided by the voluntary sector. And it is not just good for the people who receive those services through that activity, I believe it is also deeply rewarding for the people who actually provide those services as well.

The principle of service is a good principle and in every aspect of life we should encourage Parents want a more responsible society, a less selfish society, and they look to us, government and business working together, to work in partnership to try and promote that attitude. People reject the notion that we can be pigeonholed – commercial sector, public sector, voluntary sector, individuals – they are fed up with us shouting at each other from distant hilltops. Experience tells us that John Dunne was right, “No man is an island”, indeed not, but to men add businesses, government, voluntary agencies, they are not islands either and neither should they be, not islands but taking the opportunity wherever they can to work together for the common good.

And of course voluntary effort does not stand alone, it cannot be divorced from other aspects of life. An ability to look beyond narrow self-interest is fundamental to a healthy society, it lies behind the ideals of public service that the Citizen’s Charter promotes and it is fundamental to each and every business that wants to keep its workforce loyal, innovative and alert to the needs of their customers. And as you yourself have argued in the Percent Club, for businesses ethical values are not just a passing fashion, they are a long term recipe for success.

So let me say a word or two about what we in government are doing to promote volunteering and announce perhaps one or two new initiatives. Over the past 14 years the government has transformed the climate in which the voluntary sector operates. Our direct support for charities amounts to nearly half a billion a year, an increase of some 150 percent even allowing for the impact of inflation. We have established a new legal framework for charities to give the public confidence in their management and in their accountability and we have increased incentives through the inheritance, income and corporation tax systems for people and businesses alike to increase giving to charities … behind the tax concessions that we have made to the voluntary sector, I was responsible for some of them. I saw a recent report that suggested that some of them might be withdrawn. Well there are many things that I might say about that proposal, though this is after all a charitable occasion. So let me say simply this. It is the privilege of everyone to submit reports to government departments, but it is the right of government Ministers to reject those reports. And this Prime Minister does precisely that, I want to make absolutely clear that tax relief for charitable giving is here to stay in the long term and not just in the short term.

Giving to charity of course is one thing, volunteering time to help others is equally important. I said earlier this year that I wanted to see wider and more explicit recognition for volunteers in future Honours Lists. You will see the first results of that in the New Year’s Honours List on 1 January. The formal review of the number of honours is nearly complete and I will announce the outcome very shortly. But I can tell you now that within the existing lists I plan to recommend more than double the number of awards that recognise voluntary service in all its forms from around 150 in the recent past to over 300 in the future. And on that basis many more people who have devoted their life to voluntary service for others will have their work recognised by the award of an honour.

Now to achieve that does of course require a fine flow of nominations, I asked for them earlier this year and I am delighted that the new nomination forms I introduced are proving a great success. So far, and it is not very long for this to have happened in, so far around 8,000 nominations have already been received, very many for voluntary service. Some of those will be awarded honours in the New Year List and others in future lists.

Mr Chairman, we are also asking public services to take a far more positive attitude to involving volunteers. Recently, for example, Michael Howard announced a new drive to recruit an extra 10,000 more special constables, volunteers who work as policemen in their spare time. They should not be derided as second-class policemen, they should be praised as first-class citizens. And we are looking too for new parish constables and because we recognise the value of voluntary work to unemployed people we have made it easier for them to take on voluntary commitments.

Volunteers give a range of support in a vast range of areas. In the Health Service 60,000 volunteers have been recruited under the Department of Health opportunity for volunteering scheme; a further 60,000 work on over 2,000 conservation projects across the nation; and there are 2,000 or so volunteers abroad in support of development projects. Thousands more work in social service.

Doubtless more could be done and I hope that those who manage those services will set explicit targets to increase the involvement of volunteers.

We want also to work in partnership with other bodies that support volunteering. All the evidence points to the fact that if you give or help when you are young then you will continue to give or help right the way through your active life.

Take for example the Prince’s Trust. It does superb work with volunteers. 2,000 young people a year already take part in the Trust’s community programmes. They now want to expand that to take 25,000 volunteers a year within 3 years, 25,000 young people undertaking a vast range of projects within the community from helping in residential care homes to working with children, And the Trust have asked us to help them by encouraging more secondments of public sector staff with the skills and with the enthusiasm to support or lead the Prince’s Trust teams. Already departments are helping, among them the Home Office, the Department of Employment and the Ministry of Defence, and Michael Howard will be meeting the Prince’s Trust next week to offer further support and I strongly commend the scheme to you as well.

Furthermore, we want to strip away some of the unnecessary obstacles that stand in the way of voluntary work. That means in this instance deregulation. When you have to obtain more than 10 different licences or permits just to run the village hail, when you spend more time sending off environmental health officers, social workers, fire officers, than giving the service you want to give then no wonder many people wonder whether it is worthwhile seeking to help, they give their time for free and they do not expect to see it wasted by unnecessary bureaucratic demands.

So we have set up a special deregulation force, a force to look specifically at the burdens placed on the voluntary sector, it is no holds barred, it is right across the whole spectrum of regulation. I have asked that task force to report around Christmas and it has already identified 50 areas where there is potential for reform. If you have not yet been approached by them, approach them. If you have been approached and you have not told them what you think then please do so. But this will not be just one more piece of Whitehall paper, it is intended to lead to real action to assist the voluntary sector and to do so soon.

Finally, let me add a further point. I said earlier this year that we should use the resources and power of government, not to replace voluntary activity on the ground, but to make it more visible both to would-be volunteers and also to people who need the support and help that volunteers are willing to give. We can give that volunteering publicity, we can help spread ideas, we can provide a point of focus, we can ease access and widen participation and you too can help by publicising the work your companies already do in the community.

Today as a first step I can announce a new initiative to encourage more people to put themselves forward for voluntary work, we are launching an award scheme to recognise the best of the many excellent voluntary projects that exist around the country, local groups, local partnerships, all will be able to bid for grants for projects which will make a difference in the local community by increasing the scale and impact of voluntary effort. We will present the first awards next summer, any voluntary group will be eligible regardless of whether or not they already receive government support. And the proposals we have in mind have this purpose, the purpose is to help in some way to unlock voluntary effort and to link those who want to give help to those who need the help. And we will be looking for projects which genuinely add to those that are already available, not ones which replicate or replace good things that are already happening.

So what sort of projects do I have in mind? The sort of things I have in mind might be setting up new or improved databases for volunteering opportunities, information points or campaigns targeted at particular groups, the young, older people, ethnic minorities, local helplines, and all against a background of closer cooperation and coordination between existing and new players. Businesses as well as voluntary agencies must play a part in carrying through this scheme so I am delighted that business in the community and its leadership team under Ian McAlister are already involved.

The thinking behind this initiative is very simple. I believe there is an enormous reservoir of goodwill out there waiting to be tapped. And I know also that there is still an ocean of need, of isolation and of vulnerability, and too often the one does not know about the other. We should be working together to try and create bridges between the need and of people who can help to alleviate that need. And that is why eventually I want to go further, I would like to see a build on what we have and create a national network of local points of reference for volunteers and those looking to help.

Many of those local points already exist and are doing valuable work but we need many more with the right tools for the job. In some places this will be a voluntary group, in some places a church, in other places perhaps even an energetic individual, but they would all be more accessible if they shared the same basic telephone number, they would all be more accessible if they shared the same basic means of contact. That must be a long term objective but Intend that it will happen and in doing so I look for help from business, from churches and from voluntary bodies to try and make that hope a reality. There are huge reserves of commitment out there, we need to bring them out of reserve and into use and the sooner we can do that the better.

And perhaps the best way to do it is to encourage people to come forward, not to hang back and believe that someone else can do it better than them, but to encourage them to come forward and remove the impediments and disincentives that so often seem to stand in their way.

So let me summarise. We will continue to help charities with favourable tax treatment; we will raise the profile and the recognition we give to volunteers in the Honours List; we will work with the Prince’s Trust to increase the number of young volunteers; we will cut down the fussy rules and regulations that so frequently and so frustratingly hamper the voluntary effort; and we will work towards the creation of a national network for volunteers, starting with a grant scheme for projects which encourage more people to put themselves forward for voluntary work.

And what is to be your role? I want business, I want you to come with us as partners as we continue to spread that message of social responsibility, a message of responsible capitalism. We are I know asking you to do a great deal, we are asking for time, for money, for the use of company facilities, for your expertise and for a commitment which stretches from the Chief Executive’s office right down to each and every cart of the company. I know it is a lot but I believe there is a great will and a great capacity amongst people to respond to that and to work together to meet a common end. And I believe also, profoundly, that it is good for business. I do not mean good for business just in the sense of making the tills turn over, I mean it is good for business in a much wider sense. As your Chairman. Neil Shaw, said recently, and I quote: “By working in the wider community business can help to build the social environment it needs for long term wealth creation.” I am utterly sure that that is right.

I suppose you might call it a long term investment, good for you, good for us all and good for our country. The point about long term investment is surely this, if it is a good investment it pays off. I believe this social investment is a good investment and with your help I have no doubt it will pay off and pay off richly.