Activities and Events
Japan Day Seminar
Sustaining Regeneration through Partnerships in the Changing Economic Climate
The 2008 Japan Day Seminar was held in in Matlock, Derbyshire in collaboration with Derbyshire County Council on the 18th of November, under the theme of Sustaining Regeneration through Partnerships in the Changing Economic Climate and explored the role of local authorities when working in partnership with private enterprise and other organisations in regenerating the local economy.
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Proceedings of Japan Day Seminar 2008: Sustaining Regeneration Through Partnerships in the Changing Economic Climate
Derbyshire County Hall, Matlock – 18 November 2008
The event began with an opening by the chair, Professor Robin Hambleton of the University of the West of England. Prof. Hambleton then introduced County Council Chairman Joyce Sanders for the civic address to the event, remarking that is was a great privilege for Derbyshire to be the 2008 host of the Japan Day Seminar, especially during the 10th anniversary of the Derbyshire-Toyota link. Cllr Sanders paid tribute to the role of the Japan Local Government Centre (JLGC) in coordinating the event, held as part of a month-long celebration of the link, and for choosing Derbyshire as its 2008 venue. She was pleased to announce that the link had been renewed for another decade as part of the celebrations and thanked Mayor Suzuki and accompanying councillors of Toyota City for their attendance at the event.
Prof. Hambleton then opened the debate by calling the first speaker, Tom Levitt MP. Mr Levitt had recently been appointed Assistant Regional Minister for the East Midlands and it was in this capacity that he was speaking to the seminar, as the billed speaker, East Midlands Regional Minister Phil Hope MP, was now unable to attend owing to his recent promotion to care services minister. Prof. Hambleton also mentioned that it was somehow apt that Mr Levitt was speaking in place of the regional minister as he is a former Derbyshire County Councillor.
Mr Levitt began the seminar in earnest with his speech on ‘The Government’s Response at National and Regional Level to the Economic Downturn’. He outlined the role of the regional ministers, as introduced in summer 2007, particularly with regard to the East Midlands Development Agency and the Government Office for the East Midlands. Furthermore, he added that the role of assistant regional ministers was newer still and very much under development in terms of their role in relation to the actual regional ministers. As far as the East Midlands was concerned, since becoming regional minister, Phil Hope had announced his five priorities for the region as being:
4) social exclusion
5) public services
Furthermore, regional sounding boards had been established around housing and social exclusion in order to identify best practice. As the roles of regional and assistant regional ministers were still relatively new in British government it remained to be seen how they would perform under even more recent changes to the machinery of government in regional policy, such as the National Economic Council, the Regional Economic Council and the Council of Regional Ministers.
In terms of actual activity in the East Midlands, Phil Hope had convened two regional economic cabinets since the creation of the new economic councils, in October and November. This was intended to discuss specific action required in the region to prevent any burdens on local businesses and to ensure joined up government policy locally. He believed that the leadership of the Prime Minister and the provision of local intelligence from the region would ensure that its economy would be strengthened against problems in the global economy. Locally the fruits of this strategy were in evidence at the Toyota plant where the new Avensis model was due to enter production and significant investment continued to be made through employment of local people and in their skills, which benefited the wider regional.
While the East Midlands had its own economic challenges, the region was helping the rest of the UK economy advance on a global level, he argued. However, in order to do so, it was key to engage with other countries, to both learn from them and forge trust. Mr Levitt paid tribute to JLGC for its role in this process and finally paid tribute to Toyota as its plant demonstrated a robust local economy and the results of all the partners in the region pulling together to secure investment.
Prof. Hambleton thanked Mr Levitt for his speech and said that it demonstrated how when tackling economic challenges needs vary on a local basis. He then opened the debate to questions from the floor.
Q: Frank McArdle (South Derbyshire District Council): Where does the East Midlands stand in terms of other European regions and what is the RDA doing to narrow that gap?
A: Tom Levitt: To some extent Derbyshire is a success by European standards as it has not suffered from some of the knocks encountered by other regions amid the financial crisis. While it’s true that the region is not in the higher division of European regions, it is adjusting the regional economic strategy to take this into account.
Q: Chris Watson (INLOGOV): I think it’s important to stress that international links are not just about trade and investment issues but also education and culture, which can also be economically beneficial. For instance, the higher education sector also employs people in each region and international students are vital to its success.
A: Tom Levitt: Agree entirely, after all the world is getting smaller.
Prof. Hambleton thanked the assistant regional minister for taking the time to speak to the event and answer questions as he was due in Westminster later in the day on parliamentary business. He then called the next speaker, Noboru Fujishima, Director of the Japan Local Government Centre, whose talk ‘Successful Government-Business Partnerships in Japan’ was to introduce a Japanese context to the discussion. The Director’s presentation introduced the rates for regional disparity in Japan and went on to set out measures that the central government had put in place to tackle this through reforms such as merging municipalities, from over 3,000 to 1,800 or so. The Ministry of Internal Affairs & Communications was currently considering the Permanent Autonomous Residents’ Zone as a means of tackling rural depopulation. He then set regeneration in a Japanese context by detailing the example of Yokkaichi City, where he had served as Deputy Mayor, which was once the leading location for the petrochemical industry in Japan. In particular, he drew attention to the investment plan drawn up by the city council and key local agencies and partners in order to mitigate against the decline in the industry, which had been affected by domestic and foreign trends. While some aspects of the plan had not come to fruition, others exceeded projections, with an overall net benefit to the local area. He also introduced a further example of an innovative local zoo, which had used the internet to drive up entry levels and save it from decline. He then took questions from the floor.
Q: Peter Matanle (University of Sheffield): In my experience of Japan, quite often some local governments create short-lived tourist booms which saddle the locality with obsolete and expensive facilities. How did Yokkaichi guard against this?
A: Noboru Fujishima: It is true that Yokkaichi did build a tower that failed to deliver on expectations but lessons have been learnt from this and local governments are far more prudent about this sort of thing now, out of necessity.
Q: Robin Hambleton: At this stage it might be useful to outline how local government is funded in Japan?
A: Noboru Fujishima: Compared to the UK, Japan relies more strongly on local taxation to fund local services.
Q: Cllr Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire District Council): Is the local income tax accepted by citizens in Japan as fair and necessary?
A: Noboru Fujishima: Yes, very much so. The population understand how it is raised and used.
Q: Cllr Dave Wilcox (Derbyshire County Council): Can I ask how the semiconductor plant you mentioned came to be built as it wasn’t in the original investment plan for Yokkaichi yet ended up contributing the most investment.
A: Noboru Fujishima: Luck, basically, though the deregulated local environment played a part in the decision to relocate there.
Q: Peter Dougal (Gateshead Council): What criteria were used in the merger process of municipalities, were there any negative effects and is this now complete?
A: Noboru Fujishima: Yes, there were some unintended negative effects, such as the loss of local identity in the move towards larger municipalities, though the Ministry has learnt from this and is considering the Permanent Autonomous Residents’ Zone as an alternative to gain efficiencies in local government.
Prof. Hambleton thanked Director Fujishima for his presentation and introduced the next speaker, Andy Sawford, Director of the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), who spoke on ‘Partnerships and the LGIU’. Andy opened his remarks by mentioning that in a previous employment role he was actually a speechwriter for Phil Hope, so them both appearing on the same bill would have been ironic yet appropriate somehow. He then went on to say that in the past local government in Britain had remained wedded to notions of deference, the class system and hierarchy and while he did not know what the situation was in Japan, this had thankfully given way in Britain as these were not relevant in a global economic era. He said that he was honoured to be appearing at an event organised as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations for the Derbyshire-Toyota link as this was evidence of a successful economic partnership between two countries. In fact, the LGIU was celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and had been named think tank of the year. While the challenges had changed since its inception, it was hoping to remain relevant by addressing four key policy areas:
• local sustainability
• children’s services
• service transformation
• local democracy
The likelihood of recession meant that now more than ever local government has to innovate and compete by learning from each other and he hoped that a dialogue between the LGIU and JLGC would prove beneficial here. He noted the recent series of mergers of municipalities in Japan and the prospect of new mergers in Northern Ireland and offered to facilitate a dialogue between Japan and Northern Ireland through the LGIU to learn from the Japanese experience. He also noted the high level of Japanese investment in Britain but argued that investment alone was insufficient to avoid decline, though thankfully councils like Derbyshire had shown leadership and preserved its economic position. Furthermore, he hoped that rumours of a possible scaling down of the government’s response to the Sub-National Review consultation were not true, as research from the Local Government Association had shown that the effects of the recession would not be limited to only London. In concluding, he said that leadership was more important than structures and devolution from the centre needed to go further and faster. Finally, he thanked JLGC for organising the event.
In opening the floor for questions, Prof. Hambleton suggested that recent conditions had shown the limits to what the central state can achieve and that the Sub-National Review was an opportunity to reverse this. Furthermore, like in Japan, issues such as demographic change had come to the fore, as evidenced by the recent Policy Exchange report recommending abandoning underperforming regions or demands to tackle the postcode lottery. Andy Sawford agreed with these points and sought to argue that the approach taken by Policy Exchange was wrong.
Q: Cllr Dave Wilcox: In Japan, projects such as the Shinkansen have actually exacerbated disparities between regions by drawing even more people into urban centres. How can Britain avoid this?
A: Andy Sawford: Transport infrastructure remains a thorny issue for regional competitiveness in the UK also. The recent debate over Crossrail shows this.
Prof. Hambleton thanked Andy for his contribution. After a short break, Dr Peter Matanle of the White Rose East Asia Centre at Sheffield University, commenced his presentation on ‘Higher Education and the Challenge of Japan’s Shrinking Regions’, concentrating on the example of Sado island. He analysed depopulation in one region of Japan, Niigata Prefecture and showed that population shrinkage has been proceeding from rural areas towards urban centres, affecting progressively larger settlements, and argued that, under the current national population decline, regional depopulation and its consequences should be understood as illustrating possible futures for urban Japan. This focused first on Niigata Prefecture in the national context, then on selected settlements, and examined migratory patterns in one rural area, Sado Island. He demonstrated that the most significant cause of net out-migration from Sado has been for educational advancement, and rounded off by presenting qualitative discussions of a new educational venture in Sado. He concluded by stating that regional depopulation has been a predictable outcome of Japan’s national developmental project, and the lack of success in dealing with this amounts to a major policy failure by successive Japanese governments. However, the future for some of Japan’s regional communities need not be bleak, given the implementation of policies suited to local, rather than national, strengths and needs. Following the presentation by Dr Matanle there was one question from the audience.
Q: Koichi Kawai (Embassy of Japan): Is it not the case that if every failing region decides to establish a new university that an already overcrowded market will get even more crowded? Is there any best practice from the UK to avoid this?
A: Peter Matanle: Yes, it is my contention that the British system has worked well in this regard in recent years, by networking institutions across a wider area it is possible to tailor provision according to local needs and avoid over-concentration of provision.
The seminar then heard from Clive Bridge, Corporate Affairs Director, Toyota UK. In his presentation ‘ Toyota Manufacturing UK – Working together with partners‘, Mr Bridge outlined the process behind the decision to build its car manufacturing plant at Burnaston in Derbyshire, having examined a number of potential sites in Europe for its operations, as well as its facility at Deeside in North Wales. The site was constructed on a former airfield and the local councils had played a part in attracting the company to the area. Mr Bridge went on to outline the management ethos on the site and how it engaged with the local community, both local people and local councils. For instance, the company was striving to be carbon neutral through high levels of recycling on-plant and a tree-planting programme. Furthermore, during periods of low demand for production, rather than lay off workers and then rehire them it loaned them to the community for volunteering projects. Furthermore, the management engaged with the workforce through joint decision-making and constructive dialogue with the trade union Unite. It had also invested heavily in the workforce through training and qualifications. Questions for Mr Bridge then followed.
Q: Susan Handley (LGA): How typical of Toyota is it to take the long term approach as taken in Derbyshire?
A: Clive Bridge: It is a core company value so therefore typical across the group. Toyota takes a long term view and provides deliberate support to the local community.
Q: Robin Hambleton: Toyota has invested in the local environment for the benefit of the local community. How can local government match that?
A: Clive Bridge: There are many ways local government could help, such as the provision of better infrastructure to enable the company to recycle more effectively.
The final presentation of the day, ‘Partnership Working in Economic Development’, was given by Nick Hodgson, Chief Executive of Derbyshire County Council. Mr Hodgson’s presentation concentrated on the recent example of the Markham Vale business park, the council’s flagship regeneration project, which he contrasted with the process behind the construction of the Toyota plant. While the Toyota plant had been built in the south of the county at Burnaston, the Markham Vale development with situation in the north of the county near Chesterfield. The site of the development was on the former Markham Vale colliery, transforming a disused facility and former major local employer into a functioning source of economic activity once more. The £62m project will not only bring 5,000 new jobs and £130m of private investment to the county but will also transform the appearance of the disused colliery. Funding for the project has come from a variety of sources including £14.5m from the Department for Transport (for a new motorway junction), £7.5m from English Partnerships, nearly £6m from EMDA/Alliance SSP (sub-regional strategic partnership), £5.9 million from the European Union’s Regional Development Fund and £1.6m from British Coal. Furthermore, the council had worked with a private developer Henry Boot in order to bring this about, he said. Mr Hodgson then responded to various questions from the floor.
Q: Patricia Coleman (consultant): Having attended the Japan Study Tour I’m aware of the constitutional and funding differences between the two countries but how does the council envisage coping with the economic challenges it faces?
Q: Chris Watson (INLOGOV): What sort of companies does the council wish to attract to this new development?
A: Nick Hodgson: We would very much like to attract jobs of value for local people, long term skilled jobs in manufacturing if possible.
The main business of the seminar concluded, Prof. Hambleton made closing remarks as chair and focused on four themes he drawn from the presentations given. Firstly, that the challenges facing the English regions are very real. Secondly, economic crisis can be an opportunity. Thirdly, we should value international dialogue for the fresh thinking it can provide to such problems. Finally, we should recognise the importance of place in what we do. In this, the seminar closed and retired to the reception, which heard from Toyota City Mayor Suzuki and High Sheriff of Derbyshire Lord Ralph Kerr.