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November 13, 2005 8:02 pm

Britain’s future lies in entrepreneurial talent

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The Britain I want is a Britain of enterprise and aspiration – where every young person is challenged not just in sport, arts and the professions but in business and commerce to make the most of their talents and to be all they can be. It is a Britain of ambition where there is no ceiling on talent, no limit to potential, no cap on ability.

And from today, thousands of teenagers across Britain will be attending enterprise master-classes, business placements, jobs fairs and entrepreneurial activities as part of the 2,000 “Make Your Mark” events that comprise Britain’s second Enterprise Week.

Events this week, twice the number of last year, range from Sir Alan Sugar sharing his experiences of successful entrepreneurship, to the return of the “dragons” of Dragon’s Den, the BBC television programme, whom I will be meeting along with young entrepreneurs in Manchester; from school children in Yorkshire designing, building and racing vehicles for their own “Wacky Races” to an online “enterprise conference” that will bring together more than 5,000 young people; and the premier of eight films produced by students from East Renfrewshire schools at the Glasgow Film Theatre, all showing the range of young entrepreneurial talent in Britain’s creative industries.

In just a year or two we have created new competitions for the British entrepreneur of the year, the young entrepreneur of the year, the enterprise area of the year, the fastest-growing inner-city company of the year and the most enterprising school of the year – all signalling that Britain, the home of the first industrial revolution, is under­going a renaissance in enterprise.

There are over 575,000 more businesses operating today in Britain than in 1997, and businesses are starting up at the rate of over 3,500 a week. But while Britain’s entrepreneurial activity exceeds that of other major European economies, our start-up rates are still just half those of America’s – and in some of the poorest communities, only one-tenth.

We still have a long way to go and we must inspire and support a new generation of risk takers and foster new ideas with new incentives for new enterprise.

Later this week, and in the pre-Budget report next month, I will set out the next steps to boost enterprise in Britain.

If we are to have enterprise in our boardrooms, it must start in our classrooms. A Britain of enterprise needs schools that, like business and society, motivate young people and challenge them to achieve greater heights. In 1997, less than 15 per cent of schools offered enterprise education. Now half of all schools do. By 2006, every school in Britain will offer such education.

This education must be available not just for boys but also for girls. If the UK could achieve the same levels of female entrepreneurship as has the US, Britain would gain three-quarters of a million more businesses.

And enterprise education must extend beyond the normal school term – to provide inspiration and support to those with talent and enthusiasm throughout the year. So later this week, when I visit Manchester to meet young people and entrepreneurs, I will set out plans for new enterprise summer schools to be set up throughout the country next year.

These schools will bring together local businesses, local teachers and enterprise advisers to inspire and help young people who have the ideas, energy and talent to become the next generation of entrepreneurs. And just as we inspire those with talent, we must celebrate their successes and provide further opportunities to learn.

So I will also announce later this week plans to link up Britain’s most enterprising and creative young people with some of Britain’s most successful businesses. We will set out plans for the winners of the nationwide “Make Your Mark” challenge, an enterprise competition – in which more than 10,000 young people are involved – to be placed with top UK companies to experience businesses taking decisions, taking risks and driving forward enterprise.

And in next month’s pre-Budget report I will set out further measures to boost enterprise, including details of new enterprise scholarships to allow British students to learn from the best of enterprise in the US.

In the coming years I want to see an even stronger spirit of entrepreneurship in our country: young people challenged to do better. And I believe that by building on our stability, our creativity, our belief in hard work and education, and our openness to the world we can achieve this. If we do, we can turn globalisation from a threat into an opportunity and British people can be globalisation’s greatest beneficiaries.

The writer is chancellor of the exchequer

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