Eric Pickles – 2013 Speech on Uniting our Communities


Below is the text of the speech made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London on 15th January 2013.

No-one in this country will ever forget 2012.

Jubilee jamborees, street parties, music marathons.

The special magic Olympian and Paralympian gold rush.

We have not I think seen the like before compressed into a single year.

When you look back, what strikes me is how those events were illuminated by millions of small intense sparks.

Sparks of kindness and sparks of service.

It was a year when volunteering went vogue.

When the biggest army of volunteers for nearly 70 years made things go with a ‘zing’.

And when the loudest cheer at the Olympic stadium went to the games makers.

2012 was also the year when striving people who had struggled to be heard, finally found their voice.

This was brought home to me by the story I heard about Nasrine from Keighley in Yorkshire – the place in which I was born and brought up.

Nasrine came to Keighley a quarter of a century ago from Pakistan. She had always struggled to pick up the language.

Things changed when a very thoughtful neighbour invited her to a mums and toddlers group at the local church.

A group that happened to be supported by our Near Neighbours initiative.

It proved to Nasrine to be the turning point.

With the encouragement of her new friends, she plucked up the courage to enrol at a local college to learn English.

She’s now fluent, nothing can stop her.

She has even completed a food hygiene course, so she can give something back to the new friends that helped her.

Nasrine’s victory, her intense spark of success, triumphing against the odds should be cheered to the rafters just as much as the achievements of magnificent Mo Farah.

But her victory shows why we are determined to back local ambition.

Each person is a vital part of their community.

And when you improve the life of one person.

You begin to improve the lives of those around them.

We saw this time and time again last year.

Take the organisation called the Big Lunch.

This was about more than bringing millions together to enjoy a cuppa and a cake on a picnic table.

Once a community picnic becomes a gathering of neighbours, once you can put a face to a name, you start to get things done as Peter from Northfleet in Kent discovered.

By the time he had finished his meal, he’d gathered more than 90 signatures on a petition for a new zebra crossing near his local primary school.

You break down barriers and good deed leads to another.

It was the same with the Bandstand Marathon.

We helped 200,000 people boogie to the beat.

Now let’s face it from the great and the good to the rest of us we all like to boogie.

But I loved the fact that local people went further.

Ingeniously devising the ‘instrument amnesty’.

So instead of getting rid of old banjos or accordions, unused instruments went to others who wanted to learn to play.

The Jubilee Hour also offered a perfect demonstration of integration in action.

Millions gave up 60 minutes, to mark 60 years worth of service by Her Majesty.

Just like our Majesty, they often went above and beyond.

Hardy folk down in Broadbottom cleared glass from a small river beach.

Birmingham volunteers tidied up the gardens of a local care home.

For many, what started out as an hour’s volunteering looks like turning into a life-time’s commitment.

Members of the Military Preparation College have decided to volunteer about 10,000 hours annually to benefit local communities.

And, while we’re on the subject of helping people to do things for themselves, we’re ensuring youngsters from all backgrounds match skills to their ambition.

I visited Safeside, an education facility in Birmingham to see Youth United in action.

A group of St John Ambulance volunteers teaching other young folk how to give CPR. In return gaining confidence and experience that would directly help them in the jobs market.

It was a lifesaving course in more ways than one.

When you bring together all these intense sparks of commitment and community, what you get is a glowing sense of pride, a real tangible sense of belonging in our country.

The 2011 census said we are more and more becoming a cosmopolitan country.

But 2012 demonstrated why we can celebrate the common threads that unite us.

Last year we seized back the union flag from thugs and extremists.

Not just from the loutish EDL, but the equally vile ‘poppy burners’.

Both fanning the flames of hatred.

Spreading fear.

Clanging their discordant bell of division.

In 2012 we won the argument.

Where they sought to divide, we sought to unite.

Where they tried to pull down the shutters, we put out the bunting.

Where they seek to brick Britain in, we built Britain up.

These extremists want Britain to return to a place and a time that never existed.

And if it had, it would be a nasty, brutish and mean place.

But I think we’ve shown their faces don’t fit.

They are not welcome in modern Britain.

Which will be a relief for taxpayers.

For the past few years they have had to stump up the cost of policing the EDL’s malevolent marches.

Just two of those demonstrations in Luton staggeringly cost almost £2.4 million.

And left the local authority with very little change from £200,000.

That’s money that could have been spent on community policing and solving crime.

What’s more these demonstrations dealt a devastating blow to business and shops on the high street.

Luton’s local shopping centre lost an estimated half a million pounds.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the losses to local stores, companies and taxi firms faced.

Demonstrations in Bradford, my old much loved city, left businesses out of pocket to the tune of over a million pounds.

It cost £650,000 to police 1,000 protesters.

Now I don’t know about you but £650 per protester doesn’t sound like value for money to me.

Now of course, it’s wonderful we live in a society where people feel able to protest.

And the usual inconvenience is a small price to pay for such rights.

But in times of austerity we simply cannot afford to subsidise this insignificant malignant minority.

Holding thriving businesses hostage.

Hostage to hate.

When protests happens, week in week out, it numbs communities.

Blights places people call home.

Turns neighbourhoods into sinister arenas for conflict and hostility.

You should be able to pop to the chemist, or be able to let your kids go shopping on the high street on a Saturday afternoon, without having checking the calendar to see if the EDL are on the march.

Every community has a basic right to sleep soundly in their beds and to walk without fear on their streets.

I’m glad to see those EDL numbers on the slide.

Now, for some, our approach to integration is a little too simple.

They want a Stalinist 5 year plan.

They want to tell people what to do and what to think.

They believe in focus groups, the graph, the bean bag, and the diversity questionnaire.

Precisely the sort of box-ticking exercise that leads to more bureaucracy not more unity.

Policy makers of the past preferred to fund ethnic groups to help ethnic groups, instead of supporting neighbours to meet neighbours.

Yet the detractors have been bowled over by the success that we’ve had on the ground.

It’s success based in the real world.

Success founded on an understanding that integration occurs locally and can’t be imposed by Whitehall.

Those who came to this country from the Jews of the East End to Leicester’s Ugandans, they did not abandon their heritage or culture.

But they were able to make a success of their lives.

They understood that what makes you British.

Has nothing to do with the colour of your skin.

The nature of your religion.

It’s not where you come from.

It’s where you’re going that matters.

And that’s why they adopted the great things this country has to offer.

Our great British liberties.

Like respect for people’s right to free speech, even if you don’t agree with what’s being said.

And respect for the law.

It also comes out as things people consider most important about being British in today’s British Future’s poll.

And our great communities also embraced those other intangible parts of our constitution.

Of course, all those liberties that existed long before the Euro-judges were let loose on the issue.

Our joint sense of tolerance, fair play, and respect for others.

But it’s our willingness.

Their ambition.

Their determination.

To come to the party.

To grab success.

To pick up a dictionary rather than relying on a translator.

That made them a vital part of the British family.

So, when it comes to integration, our priority is to make way.

Remove the bureaucracy.

Snap the shackles of the PC brigade.

Let localism loose.

Use people power so communities can do things for themselves.

Our support for troubled families, community budgets, and neighbourhood planning are clear examples of this approach.

The old Whitehall walls have come down.

Local government fault lines have been erased.

Instead we’re getting organisations together to tackle deep rooted social problems.

We’re removing the dependence from the system and giving local people confidence to strengthen their communities.

In 2012 we discovered, to quote the Chief Rabbi, “the music beneath the noise”.

And in 2013 we won’t skip a beat of that music.

We will keep breaking down the barriers that get in the way of people getting together.

Language is our starting point.

I began by talking about Nasrine, but she is not alone.

Far too many have paid the price for another one of the old statist policies.

The decision to pay for translation instead of trusting people to learn the language.

It has been estimated that the public sector spends as much as £140 million a year translating documents into foreign languages.

Now, it wasn’t that our predecessors were ill intentioned, don’t get me wrong there.

Their hearts were in the right place.

It was just their decisions were simply wrong.

And that made matters worse.

It entrenched division.

Slamming shut the doors of opportunity.

It led us to the incomprehensible situation where no one can speak English as their main language in 5% of our households.

That’s terrible for community relations and bad news for the tax-payer.

It was good to hear recently an apology for these poor policy choices.

It’s just a pity it came 15 years too late.

If we want people to get along it makes sense they speak English.

People should be able to talk, and understand one and another in a nuanced way.

I’m not expecting everyone to adopt the lyrical dexterity of Samuel Johnson or for that matter Boris Johnson.

But this is about getting the best from all our citizens.

Britain is a country built on aspiration.

You work hard to get your first job, your first car, your first home.

But the reality is you need English to succeed.

You can’t really function as a good doctor, a good teacher, a good mechanic, or since we’re in the Institution for Civil Engineering, you can’t be a good engineer, if you can’t talk the language.

Just as you can’t talk to your neighbour, read a bus timetable, or enjoy enormous joy of The Only Way is Essex.

Worse still, our kids don’t have fluent English, are condemned to a very limited life.

We don’t want people’s identity to disappear or cease being proud of their roots or background.

We want them to stay in touch with their culture.

We want them to be proud and ambitious.

So learning English is an integral part of that process.

That’s why, instead of millions lost in translation services, next year we’re ploughing millions into an English language service.

Today I’m launching a competition that will allow local communities to tailor language services to suit the needs of their area.

It will give people the power to improve their circumstances and climb the social ladder.

But more than that it will benefit Britain.

We all miss out, our country is the poorer, if people can’t speak our language.

If they are unable to participate or make an economic contribution.

English is the passport to prosperity all over the world.

From Mumbai through to Beijing every ambitious parent is trying to get their children to learn English.

We should want no less for our children here.

And we need to ensure that intense spark of ambition is felt strongly right across the country.

When need our great communities to succeed, for Britain to succeed.

When they do well, our country is enriched culturally and economically.

Ultimately, Britain can only compete in the global race if we realise the full potential of each and every person in our country.

Another unintended consequence of the previous administration was the attitude to uncontrolled immigration.

Besides they put a strain on our schools, our healthcare and welfare.

Besides the social tension it created.

Was that it stifled a real opportunity for us to develop home grown talent.

British Asian cuisine is a classic example of this.

We all know curry is the favourite item on the menu of people up and down the land.

It warms the cockles of 2.5 million people every week.

Bringing billions into our economy.

It is also reminds us of the way we have taken a traditional dish and added our own unique British twist.

Yet I can’t understand why many chefs were being imported from Bangladesh for this purpose.

When what we should have done was train local people up to that level of cuisine.

That’s why I’m as keen as korma on curry schools.

That are helping us put some domestic glitz and glam back into the industry and enable us to develop a new generation of Master Chefs.

New Atul Kochhars.

To export to India and the rest of the world.

A desire to improve social mobility for all our citizens, is a factor I identified as being integral to integration last year.

But this is about more than curry schools.

We’re also encouraging at least 50 more schools to take part in enterprise challenges.

And winning hundreds more secondary school pupils to work placements in industry.

We’re also moving forward on another element of our strategy – participation.

Our faith communities are past masters of bringing people together.

Alastair Campbell might carp, but we definitely do ‘God’.

Faith provides a clear moral compass and a call to action that benefits society as a whole.

At a time when Christians are under attack for their beliefs in different parts of the world, I am proud we have freedom of belief in Britain.

But in recent year long-standing British liberties of freedom of religion have been undermined by the intolerance and aggressive secularism.

Taking people to task for wearing a cross or a rosary .

Beginning costly legal actions against council prayers – as if they had nothing better to do.

We’re committed to the right of Christians and people of all beliefs to follow their faith openly, wear religious symbols and pray in public.

That’s why I signed a Parliamentary Order last year to protect the freedom for communities to pray.

I am delighted that the principle of wearing a religious symbol at work has today been upheld by the European Court. It’s a very long judgement our lawyers are ploughing through.

Our Year of Service reminded us why faith still counts.

Christians at Harvest festival, Muslims at Eid and Jews on Mitzvah Day, Sikhs on the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev all reaching across the divide – giving succour to the sick, support for the needy, to the poor of all faiths and to people of no faith.

Faith galvanised our communities.

That’s why we will soon be announcing our plans to build on the success of A Year of Service.

Plans that make the most of the energy and the enthusiasm of all those who took part in faith-based volunteering last year.

Alongside this I’ll be supporting a further 190 Near Neighbours projects to keep communities connecting.

Participation stems from what last year I referred to as sharing common ground.

Last year it was about celebration. Next year will be about commemoration.

On the ceiling of this building’s Great Hall is a painted memorial to the war to end all wars.

It is a reminder of the self-sacrifice of those who fought and died for this country in a conflict that began 99 years ago.

They were made up of all creeds, colours and class, and came from all corners of the globe world.

As I stood at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday last year, it occurred to me that this was the first time we stood in silence without a World War One veteran by our side.

But we will continue to remember them.

And this year our preparations to honour the fallen will pick up pace.

Few people have a greater sense of responsibility than our brave armed forces and it’s been another of my priorities to build that sense of responsibility – particularly amongst our young people.

That is why we’ve encouraged tens of thousands of youngsters to join the National Citizen Service, and that will continue.

And we’re also helping hundreds of young people get involved in great activities like the Scouts and Industrial Cadets – helping break down barriers while having a bit of fun at the same time.

Finally, if we’re to encourage people to get on board, we have got to be very clear we need to tell some people where to get off.

As we did last year, we will continue to work to isolate extremism.

Twenty years on from the death of Stephen Lawrence, we will continue to show racism the red card – working with 10,000 students in schools across the country to reject the extremist message.

And a special interest group – led by Blackburn and Luton councils – are undertaking important work locally to tackle the fanatics.

We’ll be watching out for their findings with great interest.

Meanwhile, the money we’ve put into the Monitoring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA) will lay the foundations for reporting and gathering data on anti-Muslim incidents.

There can be no hiding place for the racists in our society.

So in 2013 our mantra is simple; integration, integration, integration.

We will continue reaching hard across the divide

We will continue forging the friendships that strengthen our society and help everyone get on in life.

But if I had one new year’s resolution for this year, it would be to make this year

…like the title of the book I’ve just downloaded onto my Kindle:

“A year of doing good”.

Because it’s those intense sparks of ambition that will light the way for our country.

Those intense sparks that will weld us together as a stronger nation in the years and the decades to come.