I accepted the invitation to attend The Network's Annual General Meeting because the work you are doing is so important. Networks such as yours have a huge role to play in promoting equal opportunities, not only in the Home Office and the Civil Service, but across the country as a whole.
We in Britain face a choice about the sort of society we want to live in.
Is it one in which opportunities are extended to all and responsibility demanded from all? A contract between citizens based on mutual respect. Or is it a society in which people are left to sink or swim on their own? Isolated individuals where intolerance festers and social division multiplies.
Britain needs more grass roots initiatives like yours, so that we can make the right choice. So that we can build a society in which whatever your background you have an equal chance of making a success of your life.
The Home Office, perhaps more than any other government department, has a responsibility to lead by example on race. The credibility of the Government's policies on the police, prisons or immigration depends crucially on the Home Office's reputation for fairness.
In order to have a truly effective Civil Service, one that sets the standards for the rest of the country, we need to ensure that it mirrors the community it serves. Not just in the Home Office, but across the public sector.
This Government is committed to providing opportunity for all the people of Britain, whatever their background. Not just because racism and discrimination are unacceptable. But because we are all stronger for it.
Strength through diversity
Britain today is a multicultural, multiracial society. Fifty years ago, at a time when we were retreating from empire, immigration helped maintain and strengthen Britain's international traditions. Instead of
becoming an insular island, we built new links with the rest of the world.
Britain's ethnic minority communities have been at the forefront of the modernisation of this country. Bringing new skills to these shores. Reinvigorating our shared culture. Shaping our values, challenging Britain always to look outwards.
In an increasingly interdependent world, we are building an interdependent society. In a world where people from different countries are brought together through work and travel; in a world where the media brings other cultures right into our living rooms; Britain's multicultural identity has become one of this country's greatest resources. You just have to flick through the Who's Who of Black Achievers to appreciate that.
Technology is tearing down the barriers that separate societies and countries faster than at any time in history. Those countries that will prosper most in this increasingly globalised world will be the ones that see diversity as the normal state of affairs. That accept rather than reject other cultures. That understand them, like them, and can work with them.
That is why the fight against prejudice and division, against racism and inequality, is not just the fight for a civilised society.
It is the fight for a stronger, more successful Britain.
Not only a Britain at home in the world. But a Britain that uses its most important natural resource - its people - to the full extent of their potential. Britain will always underperform so long as parts of society are marginalised, discriminated against. Held back by social attitudes and a lack of support.
For many decades, Britain has been coping with the problems of economic failure. Trying to bring inflation under control. Trying to tackle mass unemployment. Today, the economic agenda is different. Today, we are facing new challenges. And one of the main challenges is how do you increase a country's productivity in an era of full employment?
The key to that is clear. Value your people more. Help everyone reach their full potential, whatever their background. And that means rooting out discrimination and inequality, and providing opportunity for all.
Building a fairer Britain
Delivering a fairer Britain means more than a right to be free from discrimination, harassment and violence.
It means building a multi-racial society where diversity is recognised and valued. It means an economy where every individual has a fair chance to fulfill their potential - regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.
Commercial and economic forces are already driving progress in the private sector. More and more companies are recognising that in an increasingly competitive environment, they need to have a workforce that reflects the diversity of the marketplace. To reach out to all of Britain's consumers, to all our communities, they need to understand them, appeal to them, meet their needs.
In the U.S. equality is serious business: companies compete to be in the top league on diversity. They sell themselves on this basis. And their success registers in their bottom line. Carl Ware will tell you more about this later.
But commercial and economic forces can only take you so far. It is for governments to lead, both as employers, and because of their responsibility for setting the policy and legal framework. The Civil Service has a particular responsibility. That is why today's conference, and what you are doing in the Home Office, is so important.
The first step is to build a Civil Service that reflects the people it serves. And that needs to start at the top. In 1998, only 1.6% of those employed in the Senior Civil Service came from our ethnic minority communities - a stark indication of the challenge we face. By 2005, we want the proportion to be 3.2% and accelerating. We need to see people from ethnic minority backgrounds becoming ambassadors and permanent secretaries.
Today, departments are setting specific targets to address under-representation. The personal objectives of permanent secretaries are linked to improving diversity. Awareness of the need to reach out to all parts of our community is part of core Civil Service training. The Cabinet Office are launching a programme to help talented staff from ethnic minorities compete effectively for the Senior Civil Service. And there is a new framework for bringing more people from ethnic minorities into the fast stream and into senior positions on secondment.
Next month, the Cabinet Office will be conducting a survey right across the Civil Service to assess attitudes and perceptions of changes in its corporate culture. This is the first time such a survey has been carried out.
The Home Office has led the way on this agenda. Initiatives like The Network have played an important role. The police have also made real strides in responding to the recommendations of the Macpherson Report and increasing ethnic minority recruitment. But there is still a huge amount to do.
It isn't just a case of targets. It is also a matter of removing the cultural barriers and practices that effectively exclude people from different backgrounds. It is a question of changing institutional cultures so that they do not discriminate, and put people off from pursuing a career in public service. Many of you will understand better than me what that can be like.
I want to see the Civil Service setting the standards in this country. Promoting diversity and equal opportunities for all the people of Britain.
The Network is showing the rest of the Civil Service how to do it. You are an example of best practice, a benchmark for other departments to follow.
We need a modern Civil Service -
That leads the country through example.
That can compete with the private sector for ethnic minority talent.
That formulates policy based on the experience and insights of all our people.
Above all, we need a Civil Service that reflects the country as it is today; that makes full use of the diversity that is one of our greatest strengths.
That is why I want a fairer Britain. Not just because it makes us a more civilised society. But because it makes Britain stronger.