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I am delighted to be here as the DTI's Foresight Minister to open the debate about the outputs of the Foresight Ageing Population Panel.

I am very pleased that we have a wide-ranging audience here this evening. The variety of groups, organisations and companies represented here, does, I think, illustrate the crosscutting nature of the Ageing Population Panel's work in this much broader round of Foresight.

I welcome this opportunity to talk to you because I see Foresight as one of the most interesting and exciting parts of my job. It focuses on the "demand" side rather than the "supply" side of knowledge, and demonstrates a very practical way of planning ahead for the unexpected alongside the probable.

Foresight has recognised that the growing ageing population poses new opportunities and challenges for improving the quality of life and for wealth creation. For example, someone born in the 21st century can now expect to live 30 years longer than someone born in the 19th century. And, by 2020, it is predicted that there will be 25.2m people in the UK aged over 50 years of age compared with 19.3m in 1999.

To succeed in this environment of rapid change, we need to get much better at preparing for the future. This is why we, as government, attach such importance to the Foresight Programme.

I find the activities of the Ageing Population Panel particularly interesting. It has focused on a process which affects us all, and impacts on social and economic dimensions as well as the more often considered technological changes.

In Foresight, we are looking AHEAD to 2020 and developing visions for the future.

Foresight identifies market drivers, threats and opportunities beyond normal commercial time horizons, to inform policy and spending decisions taken today. This is rather a dry description of what is an exciting, dynamic process, to help build bridges between science and business, and make knowledge transfer between such groups easier and more straightforward.

Foresight is a technique which can help your group, organisation or company move forward in innovative ways and make the best of the opportunities that the future will bring.

It is about embedding a strategic process applicable to any organisation - large or small - which uses knowledge of what the future might hold - to inform current decision making. This is a point which needs to be stressed.

Since it was set up in 1993, it has already produced results. For example, Foresight has led to over 520m being attracted to address technology priorities it identified. It continues to have an influence on education, training, and skills. Foresight has also been responsible for developing extensive live networks of contacts across traditional industrial, scientific, and increasingly social boundaries.

The Foresight process enhances quality of life and greater wealth creation for those who use it.

It is, in short, a process which is a useful, practical addition to the planning/strategy development tool bag.

In the current round of Foresight, three thematic panels were established alongside ten sectoral panels. These Panels have the clear mandate of challenging the rest of Foresight, and the outside world to stimulate interaction between different sectors and disciplines.

To do this, the thematic Panels have the important role of helping to increase participation, information exchange, and networking - particularly at the boundaries of traditional areas.

One of these new thematic panels is the Ageing Population Panel.

As we move to 2020, the reshaping of the age pyramid will reach into all corners of society. It offers fresh opportunities for both large and small businesses. New markets for products and services will open up in the UK as our population ages.

Many other countries around the world have similar - and in several cases - more dramatic - age shifts. Within Europe, for example, in 2050, the average Italian will be aged 53, rather than the current 41 years old.

Thus, the Age Shift presents fresh challenges. By planning now, we can fully grasp the potential and develop timely strategies to deal with the issues.

We established the Ageing Population Panel to raise awareness of what having more older people and fewer younger people in our population might mean, and what these changes might offer.

The Panel has endeavoured to look across the entire population - that includes you, your children, their children and even your parents - and asked the question - "How will the demographic shift impact on us all?"

There is much work already under way - both of direct and indirect relevance to - the impact of an ageing population. The Panel has considered work which looks at the needs and wants of older people today, it has sought out research underway to address the physical process of ageing, and investigated initiatives to help individuals suggest ways in which life in an ageing society might be improved. The Panel has had the challenging task of pulling these many different sectors together in a very short time frame, and identifying where there is scope to build across them.

It has been doing this by integrating its priorities with those of the other Foresight Panels (for example, the Healthcare and Older People Taskforce is run jointly by the Ageing Population and Healthcare Panels). It has also identified a number of issues and priorities that it would like wider views on and which have been set out the panel's consultation document.

The next speaker, Professor Robert Worcester from the London School of Economics and MORI Polls will be talking to you on the demographic aspects in more detail, so I will not develop it further here. I will, however, note that, the message that the age structure of the United Kingdom is changing is widely publicised. BUT, to date, few - particularly - in the business and commercial sectors - have shown any reaction to the possibilities which are opened up by having proportionally more older healthy people in the population as we move towards 2020.

The Consultation Exercise

In its consultation document, the Age Shift, the Ageing Population Panel presents for debate a number of drivers and trends that will both shape and be shaped by the global demographic shift towards older people. The Panel's longer term objective is to use your input to develop the Panel's final report in November, and within in, an agenda for action.

The issues for debate now include:

  • increasingly flexible patterns of work, retirement and lifelong learning;
  • the impact on financial services such as investments and pensions;
  • new opportunities for leisure and retailing;
  • the need for preventative and information-technology based healthcare;
  • the implications for the design of products, public transport systems and 'smart-wired' homes that will help to maintain independent life; and
  • other new applications for communications technologies.

The Panel wants to know if it has identified the right issues. Are there other important points which it needs to take into account? Input from as wide an audience as possible is needed to address these questions. Hence the need for consultation.

To help develop its views, the Panel is asking the following questions:

  • does the Age Shift highlight issues you think are important?

  • where are the gaps and how might these be filled?

  • who should be included in this consultation exercise?

  • what are the roles of the different sectors?

  • how can individuals prepare for the Age Shift?

  • what are the priorities for action?

Later on, Jim Stretton, the Panel Chairman, will outline how the Panel developed its consultation document, its key issues and how you can get involved. The Panel and its taskforces have put in a great deal of thought and effort in putting together this document for you. I hope you will all feel able to take it forward, encourage further discussions on it, and most importantly, come back to this Foresight Panel with your thoughts.

The issues addressed by the Panel are fundamental to the quality of life of a growing proportion of the population, and the Government regards them as of the greatest importance.

Thank you.

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