This year I am going to make a number of speeches about the challenges Britain faces as we enter the next Millennium.
Today I want to start by asking not what kind of Britain we want to live in, but a more fundamental question: what kind of people we believe we are and what kind of people do we want to become.
We are warned often enough where society is heading - to an atomised, individualised, selfish, computer-obsessed, lonely, soulless hell. A society where rules and values count for nothing, respect for others dwindles, where money matters more than humanity.
This is not what people want. It's a vision that the British people reject. In its place people yearn for a society that heals itself, a politics that reduces division, intolerance, and inequality.
Each day, in communities across the country, people act out their vision of Britain - rejecting selfishness and embracing community.
Today we honour some of those people, the winners of Millennium Awards, local heroes who have captured this new spirit, from setting up a new community transport service to cleaning up their neighbourhood.
Next year, during the Millennium, the eyes of the world will be on Britain, on the Meridian line at Greenwich, on the opening of the Dome. The dome will signal a confidence in British creativity, products, and talent. But I want people's eyes to be on something else as well. On what is happening up and down this great country -ordinary people making an extraordinary difference.
And because the best way we can mark the Millennium is not just the fun of the year 2000, the Dome, the celebrations but reaching out to our community, giving something back as well as taking from it.
So today I set down a challenge: That we mark the Millennium with an explosion in giving, "acts of community", that touch people's lives. Signaling a confidence not just in our creativity but in the nation's ability to work together, a nation brought together by a spirit of generosity towards each other.
The time is ripe. More and more people are looking to find ways to give something back. To be part of something bigger than themselves.
This changed mood was one of the reasons why the government was elected. It helps to explain our priorities - jobs, schools, health, crime and social exclusion. It has given shape to policies like the New Deal.
And it has cast a new light on the role of government. In the first half of this century we learnt that the community cannot achieve its aims without the help of government providing essential services, and a backdrop of security. In the second half of the century we learnt that government cannot achieve its aims without the energy and commitment of others - voluntary organisations, business, and, crucially, the wider public. That is why the Third Sector is such an important part of the Third Way.
So turning around schools doesn't just depend on motivated teachers and pupils; it also depends on parents, on local people willing to give time as governors or mentoring children. Cutting crime doesn't just depend on the police. It also depends on people giving time to neighbourhood watch, serving as a magistrate, or befriending a teenager who is getting into trouble with the law. So government and community need each other. They need to act in tandem.
Both right and left often failed to appreciate this. The right were perceived as believing that people are only motivated by selfish interests and that the private sector has a monopoly of efficiency and responsiveness. That a more active role for government necessarily means less space for voluntary initiative. The left were seen as belittling voluntary activity, seeing it as a poor alternative to direct state provision, and my party at times forgot its own roots in self-help, friendly societies, cooperatives and voluntary organisations, and the insights of Robert Owen and William Morris.
It is incumbent on us to avoid those mistakes. The central belief that brought me into politics, and drives everything that I do, is that individuals realise their potential best through a strong community based on rights and responsibilities. I have always believed that the bonds that individuals make with each other and their communities are every bit as important as the things provided for them by the state. And history shows that the most successful societies are those that harness the energies of voluntary action, giving due recognition to the third sector of voluntary and community organisations.
Britain is lucky in that we have such a rich tradition of enterprise of this kind. From the Salvation Army to VSO . From Barnados to Water Aid. From the Workers Educational Association to the University of the Third Age. One historian recently wrote that 'no nation can lay claim to a richer philanthropic past than Britain', and even the NCVO, celebrating 80 years in existence, is in some respects a newcomer.
Overall the picture remains healthy. Every year thousands of new charities and self-help groups are founded, and thousands of social entrepreneurs achieve extraordinary things in difficult circumstances.
I believe that the modern role of government is not to supplant this activity, to dominate it, or for that matter to ignore it. Instead government has two primary responsibilities: first, making it as easy and attractive as possible for people to give money and time, and, second, where appropriate, to provide the support that voluntary organisations need to deliver services and strengthen communities.
A new relationship between government and the voluntary sector.
In the past the relationship between voluntary organisations and national and local government has been at best unequal, at worst oppressive. The public sector has encouraged voluntary organisations to take up contracts - but then failed to provide secure funding. It has too often paid lipservice to consulting the community, or to partnership.
We are now trying to rectify these mistakes. The Compact agreed - with the help of the NCVO - in England, and the other Compacts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are redefining the relationship between government and voluntary organisations. A commitment to fair funding frameworks. Guaranteed independence to speak out and criticise regardless of funding. Direct involvement in policy making.
This new approach is already bearing fruit. The Department for Social Security has started to remove the benefits barriers to volunteering. Hundreds of voluntary organisations have helped to shape the New Deal, as well as delivering gateway services as placements. Hundreds of voluntary organisations working with children have helped to frame the Surestart programme and will now help deliver it. The Single Gateway for welfare will specifically provide for pilots led by voluntary organisations to test out new ways of helping people off welfare into work. Right across the board, a new, and fairer relationship is taking shape.
As part of that modern relationship I also want the voluntary sector more fully involved into the work of rebuilding communities.
I have always said that turning the tide of social exclusion is a ten year project. We have made a start but there are still far too many areas where people have no job, no shop, no bank account, no links to the mainstream economy. Bringing people into the economy and giving them access to the opportunities that others take for granted requires us to make a new connection between economic opportunity and social renewal.
We have always said that human capital is at the core of the new economy. But increasingly it is also social capital that matters too - the capacity to get things done, to cooperate, the magic ingredient that makes all the difference.
Too often in the past government programmes damaged social capital - sending in the experts but ignoring community organisations, investing in bricks and mortar but not in people. In the future we need to invest in social capital as surely as we invest in skills and buildings.
The voluntary sector is - I believe - showing the way, making the links between rebuilding communities and rebuilding economic opportunity.
Credit unions that give people who are often excluded from conventional financial institutions access to finance. Nearly a dozen community loan funds with over ??75 million at their disposal. Microfinance funds like the Prince's Youth Business Trust. Social banks like Triodos. Hundreds of Local Exchange Trading systems providing services where there were none. Hundreds of community development trusts. All creating wealth, and all in tandem strengthening their communities.
Over the next few years it will be a priority for government to lend its support to this emerging sector. Already a lot of work is underway across government involving the Treasury, the SEU , DETR and the DTI . We are looking at how to introduce new flexibilities for credit unions. A bigger role for community enterprise in regeneration projects. The New Deal for Communities whose first 17 areas will be announced later this year - designed to put community organisations in the driving seat. Regional Development Agencies providing strategic support for the social economy. The Charity Commission looking at modernising the application of charity law to encompass relief of unemployment, and urban regeneration. New projects like the Community Action Network linking social entrepreneurs together to share lessons and experiences. Business is playing its part too, providing finance in imaginative ways, such as NatWest's Community Bond launched today.
All coming together so that over the next year we will put in place a far more focused, and effective, strategy for creating wealth in the parts of Britain that have too often been bypassed by growth in the past.
The Active Community.
Our biggest challenge, however, will be to ignite a new spirit of involvement in the community.
Millions of people are active in organisations as diverse as the CSV and the WRVS , the Territorial Army and the specials. 80,000 people serve in residents associations, 350,000 as school governors and tens of thousands serving as councillors in the voluntary activity that is the bedrock of democracy. Hundreds of thousands helping out as mentors.
But everyone knows just how much more could be done. How many elderly people could benefit from neighbours doing simple things like picking up shopping, or cooking a meal. How many children could use help learning to read.
Education is not just the teachers and the books and the bricks and mortar. It is the parents who get involved. Charities, however professionally run, however well managed, however well funded, need small armies of people who give their time and effort for free. Without them the charities wouldn't exist and the causes they help would suffer.
And for all the millions who do get involved I believe there are millions more who would get involved if they knew how.
Barely one in twenty young people, and fewer than one in ten adults gave time last month. Yet many of those who aren't involved say that they would like to be.
If we are to make Britain a truly great nation in the next century we need to increase these numbers. Indeed, we need nothing less than a step change in public involvement in the community.
Communicating and motivating.
If we are to achieve this change the first task will be to motivate people. Raising awareness about other people's needs and problems. Showing that being involved can be fun, and fulfilling.
I know that many broadcasters and newspaper groups - particularly in the regions - are already developing exciting plans to use their immense power to support involvement in the community.
We will be working with them and with a new charity, Pilotlight, set up by one of the founders of Comic Relief, in a new project called One20 to pioneer imaginative new ways of encouraging people to get involved, to share their passions and enthusiasms.
We often talk about the feelgood factor that comes from a booming economy. But there is another feelgood factor. Giving time, sharing your talents, does more than anything to make people feel better about themselves.
New volunteering programmes.
If we can engage people the next task will be to channel that enthusiasm into carefully-designed programmes for giving time.
Young people are our priority. Many already put a lot into their communities. But many don't feel they belong, or don't know how to contribute.
Today we launch our flagship initiative in this area, the Millennium Volunteers. ??48m of help to encourage a new generation of young people to volunteer. It will give them new skills and confidence, and a Millennium Volunteers Award to show to employers at the end.
At the other end of the age range, for the first time ever we will provide funding for a new initiative to support older volunteers, promoting more active lives for older people, and pioneering a more active use of the years that rising life expectancy has given us. Working in partnership with voluntary organisations that are expert in this field such as Age Concern, RSVP , REACH and the Dark Horse venture, it will encourage people to take an active role in the lives of their community as they grow older.
We will also work with business to make it easier for employees to volunteer. Some firms are pioneering new ways of encouraging their staff to get involved. Many see it as good for business - good for motivation, good for developing the skills of their staff. And many employees know that its good to be able to put practical achievements outside work on your CV .
To get more businesses involved, the Home Office is providing financial support to Business in the Community in a new initiative with some of our biggest companies to encourage much more volunteering from the workplace. City Cares will begin in ten towns and cities across the UK later this year, offering hands on opportunities for practical community activity. Demonstrating to employers that they benefit from better motivated, more involved employees.
These - and related projects such as new support for volunteering in the black community, and encouragement for volunteers helping GP s - are just some of the practical ways in which government can provide help, drawing on the additional ??25 millionof Home Office funding that will support initiatives in this area. Not as an alternative to public service. Not as a way of getting things done on the cheap. But rather as a complement to the commitment we have already made to rebuilding the NHS , education and other public services.
Because a fully employed society isn't just one where everyone who wants a job has a job. It is one where everyone contributes all their talents - through the things they do, paid or unpaid, in the service of others. A society in which when people ask you: 'what do you do?', it's not just your job that you mention.
All of these new initiatives will make a big contribution. But if we are to achieve the step change I believe is possible we also need to modernise the ways in which people find out about whats happening and how to get involved.
At the moment there are some excellent volunteer bureaux, and some pathbreaking projects like The Site which provides information on-line. But for many people it is much easier to find out what's on at the local cinema than whats happening in the community. It's easier to buy a foreign holiday than it is to volunteer.
Over the next few years we need to change that, drawing on the very best technologies and materials, and the most imaginative ideas.
To drive the work forward I have asked Lord Warner to chair a group bringing together voluntary organisations, business, broadcasters and others.
They will look at technologies - how to make the most of plans that the New Millennium Experience has developed working with business and voluntary organisations to create an on-line infrastructure so that everyone can access accurate, timely information about how to get involved in the community.
They will work alongside the lottery boards which are already examining how they can better support the infrastructures that will channel volunteers into everything from After School Clubs and Healthy Living Centres, to heritage sites and sports groups.
They will look at what can be done locally - setting up pilots across the country later this year to test out imaginative new ways of bringing together volunteers and volunteering opportunities.
They will look at what the media can contribute - from the mainstream broadcasters to the new community channel which will soon be launched on digital television, and from new printed guides to local newspapers.
And I can announce today that we will be making additional resources available to test out the feasibility of new ways of ensuring that there is a rough guide - a kind of yellow pages for voluntary work - available to every home in every community; which sets out where people can go and what they can do if they want to be involved.
These are some of the ways in which government will provide help. But it is also vital that we modernise how government works.
In the past the voluntary sector has been seen as a relatively marginal issue for government. It has not been given the priority it deserves.
I have therefore asked Jack Straw to subsume the existing Voluntary and Community Unit into a new Active Community Unit with a substantially bigger role and higher profile. Like the Social Exclusion Unit this new unit will have a brief to work across government to coordinate the work of departments, joining up the many different things that government does. It will be outward looking, building partnerships, making things happen. It will be made up of people from outside government as well as inside. And it will raise the profile of the sector within government, providing a channel for the best ideas.
We should set our sights high. Britain is ready to rebuild a sense of community, common purpose and shared promise. To give new energy to old traditions of self help and mutual aid. So that Britain doesn't become a country where if people see a problem they wait for someone else to fix it, or say 'that's the government's job.'
At the risk of giving Harry Enfield some free ammunition, there is one last thing I want to say about helping others in the community.
What does it say about the country we became in the late 20th century that do-gooding, rather than being the foundation stone of the fair society and vibrant communities that we want, became a term of abuse?
It is good to do good. Good for those charities and organisations and neighbourhoods in which the good is being done. But good for the do-gooder as well.
The cynics never built anything. They stand on the sidelines. They imagine that all that motivates men and women and children is the desire to do good for themselves, to acquire more, be it power or wealth or material possessions.
But if everyone shared that first past the post, me, my, mine philosophy then there really would be no such thing as society.
But there is such a thing as society and it is made up of millions of people making millions of decisions about what they do with their time, what they do for themselves, what they do for each other.
Let those of us who believe in the power of community reclaim the idea of doing good and wear it as a badge of pride.