This government has made no secret about its ambitious plans to level up every part of the UK and close opportunity gaps. It is at the heart of Conservative values that everyone, no matter their background or where they are from, should be afforded the same opportunities.
I’m not just talking about our commitment to getting more police on the streets, or investing in our health and education systems - although this is vital too and we are doing just that.
I’m talking about a major pledge made at last month’s Conservative Party Conference, which we are underlining today: our commitment to young people.
In my time as a politician I’ve met so many brilliant young people - some who have gone on to take part in initiatives like the Youth Parliament, Duke of Edinburgh Awards or the National Citizen Service. These have proven life-changing in developing their confidence, employability, character and resilience.
But I’ve also met many young people who have found access to youth opportunities hard to come by.
It should be clear that we as a government are bold in our ambitions. We want all young people from all backgrounds to have opportunities to grow, develop and fulfil their potential. After all, it is our children that are the foundation of our nation’s future.
They should be able to join their local youth centre, play in a sports team, get creative in the arts or participate in social action on the issues that matter to them.
That is why last month the chancellor announced an ambitious, long-term £500m plan for our youth services that will give young people somewhere to go, something positive to do and someone to talk to.
Half of this investment will fund a combination of new youth centres, refurbish existing facilities and create more mobile clubs. The other half will be invested in a range of activities such as digital skills, sport, arts and social action, alongside supporting and training more youth workers so all young people have a trusted person they can speak to.
By investing in places where young people can go, with trained, trusted adults to work with them and in programmes that provide skills and opportunities, we will support a huge number of young people across the country.
Today, I’m delighted to announce that existing youth projects across the country will receive an immediate £12m boost. This includes a new Youth Accelerator Fund, worth up to £7m, that will expand existing projects across the country, deliver extra sessions in youth clubs to help young people develop life skills and contribute to their communities.
It will also provide a further £5m for the #iwill fund, on top of £20m of government money already invested in the volunteering and social action organisation. Since its launch in 2016, the fund has created more than 500,000 opportunities to engage disadvantaged young people to take part in volunteering and social action, supporting them to get involved in their local communities.
My department has been leading work across government to find ways of giving young people a say on the issues that affect them. We kicked off three new youth voice projects in February to encourage participation in national policy making: the Youth Steering Group; Young Inspectors Group and Digital Youth engagement research. They’ve already made a huge impact, from conducting a review of environment and climate policy to designing new tools to engage more young voices in decision making.
Our young people have a wealth of knowledge, we must listen to their doubts and desires to ensure that their voices are heard. Their views will continue to inform the development of our offer for them, including both the new funding announced today and the longer term Youth Investment Fund.
Our young people are a key part of our shared success and prosperity as a nation and it is vital that we continue to develop their skills, talent and character, and level up these opportunities. I look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with them to do so.