A pair of protesters at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Conference failed to stop the Prime Minister of Britain addressing the delegates assembled there.
The gentleman on the roof held a sign aloft saying that the proposed move of Britain's energy provision being mainly nuclear was a bad decision. The CBI Director General, Digby Jones, refused to give in to what he termed "ultimatums". Digby Jones offered the protesters "“ whom he deemed "legitimate" "“ the chance to ask the Prime Minister the first question following his speech in return for ending their protest. When they refused, Mr. Blair's speech was moved to another location away from the protesters; as Mr. Blair joked, "This is going to be a surreal experience... Im going to give this speech if its the last thing I do."
Make "Em Laugh
The assembled heads of British industry were in a receptive mood as the Prime Minister, acknowledged as a master of the art of moving a crowd, followed one of the oldest instructions in the book of speech giving; namely, "open with a joke". This was made somewhat simpler by the protesters, and the first few minutes were taken up with Mr. Blair agreeing in actions with the great Donald O"Connor of Singin" in the Rain and making them laugh.
At one stage, when Mr. Blair referred to something not being affordable in his speech, another mobile phone went off. Mr. Blair joked: "That must be the Chancellor", to widespread applause from the delegates who had listened to Gordon Brown the day before. The CBI were undoubtedly in a friendly mood for the Prime Minister's visit, and it is fair to say that he will face much tougher groups than this!
Skills and the Future
The Government has made little secret of its desire to move Britain forward through developing the skills required for competition in the global economy with which we are now faced. Mr. Blair, before launching into the main section of his speech on the energy industry and the report launched today, spoke of his desire to drive forward the education and training agenda in cooperation with business.
He recognised that one of the commonest complaints from members of the CBI in terms of public education was that it did not produce individuals with the skills needed by employers. He cited several statistics that indicate the massive growth of apprenticeships, and called to their attention the National Employment Training Programme (NETP) that is being rolled out. This is in line with the Foster Review on Further Education, published this month, which called for the FE sector to focus on improving the skills needed by the economy and employers.
Science for the Future and Skills Academies
The Prime Minister also spoke of the Skills Academies programmes being carried forward in cooperation with various sectors of British industry. These are driving forward cooperation between business and education, and are attacking the skills gaps as seen from the employers" perspective as well as providing the training that learners demand. Mr. Blair said that more Academies would follow, with (amongst others) Norwich Union Insurance already agreeing to work with the Government on this.
The Prime Minister also expanded his comments, stating that there had to be a far greater investment and expansion of the Government's commitment to science, and stated this was to be "doubled" (although, of course, in the speech he did not say from what figure to what figure). The message to the CBI was clear, as the Prime Minister said, the time has come for industry too to "get involved".