Lord Digby Jones berates failing education system and calls for training ethos to be included in the nation’s DNA

London, 9 October 2014 – Lord Digby Jones, speaking at yesterday’s ICSA Company Secretaries Conference at Excel in London, named an ageing population and a lack of skilled workers as the two greatest challenges to British business. Addressing a packed room of company secretaries and other governance professionals, he called for education to be improved and for businesses to train people properly.

With a system that is expected to support people from infancy until late teens and then once again following retirement, Lord Jones stressed that it is a fact of life that some stringent, meaningful and hard things will have to happen. With an ageing population in general there will not be enough money to pay for pensions and it will be an enormous challenge to make people work in their seventies. Business is at the forefront of this concern, he stressed, as it generates the wealth to pay for welfare benefits.

Addressing the skills gap, Lord Jones said that half of the children in this country cannot read or write properly and 20% of adults cannot read to the standard set for an 11-year-old. 48% of children sitting GCSEs this year did not get grade C or above in maths and one in three adults cannot add up three figure numbers so we are dealing with a largely innumerate society he feels.

Lord Jones believes that we need a country in which people can read, write and operate a computer. In a bold statement he stated that teachers should have a contractual obligation to deliver people who can read, write and add up by fifteen. He also believes that parents whose children can read by fifteen should be given a tax break or those whose children can't should have their non-essential benefits stopped as with a lack of any real industry in the country, we are condemning the illiterate and innumerate to the scrap heap for the next eighty years.

He also stated that leaderless and meaningless compliance is a big block on wealth creation and said that leadership is needed in and around the boardroom. The main things that he would like to see in a boardroom are as follows:

  • Sector experience
  • Numeracy
  • Independence, and for 
  • Non-executive directors to meet once a quarter for an hour to talk about things including the CEO, the equity, where the business stands in society, in its peer group and internally.

Speaking on the subject of company secretaries, he said that they are “politicians really” and stressed that you need such people to tell truth to power. The best boards that he has worked with have always had excellent company secretaries.

“I am delighted that Lord Jones recognises the value of the company secretarial role,” says ICSA Chief Executive Simon Osborne. “Research that we carried out with Henley Business School this summer shows that there is a need for highly qualified company secretaries in all walks of life. As the ‘guardians of governance’, they are ideally placed to help boards deal with the increasingly challenging issue of governance whatever the sector.”

- Ends -

For further information and quotes from Lord Jones’ keynote address, please contact Maria Brookes, Media Relations Manager:

+44 (0)20 7612 7072
+44 (0)7890 649 143

Notes to Editors:

  1. ICSA (Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators) is the chartered membership and qualifying body for professionals working in governance, risk and compliance, including company secretaries. Our members work in all sectors and at every level of seniority. With over 120 years of experience, we champion high governance standards by providing qualifications, training, high-quality guidance and support (including technical resources, publications and software), and through our work with regulators and policy makers. 
    Website: www.icsa.org.uk
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