Good evening everyone. A very warm welcome to everybody here. I have lots of parties and receptions and events here in this room. Just today I had the president of Afghanistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan here. But I’ve got to say to you, there are very few meetings that give me greater pleasure than having in this wonderful room so many brilliant charities that look after our armed forces, that look after veterans, that look after widows, that look after people who have served in our armed forces. So it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome you all here tonight.
Tonight is an important night, and I hope – this is the first time we’ve brought together as many military charities as we could in one place. And I hope we’ll make it an annual event, because I think it’s really important, first of all, to thank you for the incredible work that you do. When I became prime minister, I could see perfectly well that we have been asking our military in this country to do more and more, to work harder and harder. We’ve had people deployed to Iraq, to Afghanistan; I frequently meet people who are on their third or even on their fourth tour. We’ve asked our armed services to do an immense amount. They have made extraordinary sacrifices; their families have made extraordinary sacrifices. I see that as a constituency MP, with RAF Brize Norton in my constituency – so many families affected by deployment after deployment. And what I sense is that, not just that the government should be doing more, but the whole country should be doing more and, crucially, the whole country wants to do more. And that’s what I want to just say a word about tonight.
Government, I think, is starting to play its proper role. We put in place the Military Covenant; we’ve put it into law. I think that was an important step forward. We set up the Covenant Reference Group, bringing together ministers from all the departments which can affect service personnel’s lives – so, the Home Office, the Health Department, the Education Department – all sitting round the table, in the Cabinet Room, chaired by Oliver Letwin, one of the most senior ministers in the government - I chaired the inaugural meeting - looking at all the things we can do to make sure the Armed Forces Covenant really means something in the lives of our service families.
But it isn’t just about government. As I said, it’s about what the country wants to do in terms of doing even more to support armed service personnel, veterans and families. And that’s why it’s been so good to see this covenant roll out across our country. We see the Civic Covenant, where local authority after local authority has signed up and said it will do more to help veterans’ and forces’ families. Tonight we’ve got the Corporate Covenant – some of the first companies to sign up and say what they want to do. So, some of the ones I’ve just been meeting, like National Express, saying they’re going to try and employ more ex-service personnel, that they’re going to give people transport reduction – I’m sure that will be very welcome to people. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, took an important step in terms of bus travel for veterans.
So what I see is a sense that government, yes, needs to do more, and is. But also the whole country wants to do more. We see that in local government; we see it in business; we see it in the donations that your charities receive. So I hope you can see, for the first time in a long time, a more joined-up approach to the needs of service personnel and families.
But the crucial thing is that it’s not just a joined-up approach; there is now some proper money involved. And I hope that there are lots of people tonight who’ve seen the benefits of that. And here I want to thank someone who doesn’t get thanked very often in Number 10 Downing Street, or, or indeed anywhere else, and that is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Because he has done a truly wonderful thing, which is, he has taken the money from the Libor fines, where banks and others had behaved badly, and he has taken that money, and he hasn’t taken a Treasury skim off the top – he hasn’t taken a ‘top slice’, as we like to say in Whitehall – he has given every penny piece of that money to the great charities, voluntary bodies and organisations, some of whom are here tonight.
So far that has been £35 million of money – real money – into armed forces charities. Tonight I can announce how £9 million is going to be spent. But the really exciting thing I can announce tonight is that, while I can’t guarantee that this bad behaviour that has been punished and fines will continue – and I very much hope it won’t continue – what I can guarantee is that you’ve had the £35 million, but from 2015 there will be £10 million available for this community scheme, so we can go on doing the right thing by our military veterans and forces charities. I think that puts some proper money behind what I think is now a joined-up approach. As the Chancellor himself put it, what we have done is taken the money from some people who demonstrated the worst of values, and we have given that money to organisations like yours, and to people who’ve served in our Armed Forces, who have shown the very best of British values.
So I’m really proud that we’re able to do that. It’s frankly the least that all of you deserve for the amazing work that you do. So, above all, the message from me tonight is a very big thank you for the work you do; a plea to go on doing the incredible work you do; and a plea to go on being what you are, which is amazingly inventive and creative about how to help families, about how to help widows, about how to help bring people together. Because what struck me when I looked at the list of organisations here tonight, is it hasn’t just got the longstanding charities that have done so much amazing work over the years; we’ve also got some incredible entrepreneurs, some incredible thinkers and dreamers who’ve come up with amazing schemes to help our brave armed service personnel. So an enormously warm welcome, a very big thank you; keep doing what you’re doing; frankly, you are the best of British, and you deserve that Libor money. Thank you very much indeed.