2009/10 London

Activities and Events

Japan Day Seminar

2009/10 London

20 Years of Japan-UK Relations at JLGC

The Recession One Year On – Strategies and Solutions for Local Communities

Local Government House, London – 23 November 2009

The event was opened by Cllr Richard Kemp, Deputy Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) and Chairman of its European and International Strategy Group. After welcoming delegates, Cllr Kemp introduced Michihiro Kayama, Chairman of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations of Japan (CLAIR). Mr Kayama expressed thanks to the LGA for co-hosting this year’s Japan Day Seminar on account of its being the 20th anniversary of CLAIR’s London office, the Japan Local Government Centre (JLGC), in London. The chairman highlighted the work undertaken by CLAIR between the UK and Japan, in particular the contribution of the JET Programme, paying tribute to the Japanese studies lecturer at Liverpool John Moore’s University whose son had later followed her onto the programme. He hoped that this experience would be taken into account by the new government of Japan, which had been elected on account of the people’s desire for change and as such CLAIR’s existence could be under pressure.

However, he stressed, it was important to take a long term perspective in order to deepen international bonds at the local level and hoped that this would be taken into account in any future discussions. Cllr Kemp then thanked the chairman before moving on to his own presentation. He paid tribute to JLGC’s 20 years in London and noted that what Japan had been undertaking for two decades through CLAIR, the rest of the world had only just started to do through the United Cities and Local Governments’ organisation (UCLG). The CLAIR model therefore he argued could act as a template for the rest of the world to analyse the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by local government, he continued, and this had become apparent during his recent visit to a UCLG congress in China, where most other delegates reported that their national governments did not accord them sufficient power or resources and that such problems were in fact universal.

However, the UK was arguably the most centralised state in Europe he maintained, noting that while the government now accepted the need for decentralisation it was still failing to deliver. National government should set overall strategies he stated, not micromanage communities, as all towns and cities are different. While all localities are different, this does not preclude them from learning from one another, he asserted. For instance, the work being undertaken by Chinese cities to mitigate against climate change or indeed the theme of the event, UK/Japan knowledge transfer about tackling the recession. It would take a peculiar type of nationalist to disagree, he asserted.

Moving on to the event theme, he suggested that his own experience of serving as a councillor in Liverpool during the early 1980s recession and the later dot com boom crash had shown him that councils should not panic at the challenges which lay ahead.

The seminar then heard from Greg Clark, Adviser on City and Regional Development, UK Government. Greg thanked JLGC for the opportunity to speak at the event and hoped that it could become the first step on the path to a collaboration agenda of improved dialogue and learning between British and Japanese cities, which currently face a knowledge gap in collaboration and exploration of areas of potential connectivity.

The next speaker was Michitaka Nakao, formerly Director of Business Development, Japan External Trade Organisation London office (JETRO). Mr Nakao mentioned that he was currently unemployed after currently finishing an MBA course at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School following his resignation from JETRO and this was a source of shame to be part of such a prestigious line up of employed speakers. Furthermore, he was aware that many in Japan viewed JETRO as a waste of taxpayers’ money and stressed that his presentation was based on his own personal views, formed under the previous Liberal Democratic Party administration and not those of JETRO. In particular he noted the emerging collaborative links in bioscience research between Kitakyushu in Japan and Liverpool in the UK.

The event then heard from Sarah Longlands, Director of Policy at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Ms Longlands outlined the centre’s work and membership profile before going on to detail its resilience model, with particular regard to Portland, US and Yokkaichi, Japan.

Following a short break, a panel discussion was held between the previous speakers and Akiyuki Hamagami, Director General of the European Representative Office of Hyogo Prefectural Government. Mr Hamagami began by paying respects to the victims of the on-going floods in Cumbria, before going on to outline the role of Hyogo’s European presence and its efforts to attract visitors from Europe.

The panel discussion then took questions from the floor.

Q: Professor George Jones (London School of Economics): There has been a lot of discussion of what local government should do but could the panel outline what it thinks local government should not do?

A: Greg Clark: Local government shouldn’t raise armies, run its own currencies, administer borders etc. but beyond this it has an entirely legitimate role in most areas of government, the question therefore is to examine what national governments are not good at and look at securing a balance. Of course there should be more devolution to local government but in terms of the UK it’s important to appreciate the peculiar spatial geography and disparities between regions which are net fiscal positive and those which are net fiscal negative.

Michitaka Nakao: The answer as I see it is to examine where government should determine how much to act or not act in the development of local economies and to appreciate the clear role between public and private and where they interact. However, in all government functions there is a role for local government, though obviously this will vary, in particular local government knows better than central government how to access the key players in local business and has better knowledge about the needs of local industry.

Sarah Longlands: Local government shouldn’t seek to grow the economy at the expense of the poorest in society by going simply for growth above all else and shouldn’t try to second guess what the market will do. Instead local government should seek to ensure that the conditions are right to support local business and shouldn’t perform roles best left to the private sector, nor that of central government such as the delivery of benefits. Finally, local government shouldn’t wait for someone else to act first and should instead show leadership.

Akiyuki Hamagami: Local government should not ignore local people. Instead local government should seek a new way.

Richard Kemp: Local government shouldn’t despair at economic conditions but instead seek out good ideas and use history to build on. Local government shouldn’t wait for permission either, it should proceed more quickly. Rather than the Japanese company production method of Just In Time, local government should Just Do It, or Just Bloody Well Do It.

Q: Cllr Peter O’Neill (NE Derbyshire DC): I was interested to hear more about Gdansk’s resilience model, particularly regarding the inertia once finance disappears and the role of local identity in this.

A: Sarah Longlands: Yes, local identity is key to promoting a local economy, whereas Portland traded on its environmental credentials and social equity as part of its city offer, whereas Gdansk used its identity as a trading city to boost its competitiveness.

Q: Richard Kemp: Taking this on board, have we gone too far with internationalism?

A: Greg Clark: Globalisation doesn’t have to mean sameness, in fact distinctness is often a city’s best tool in being competitive. It’s important for cities to participate globally within an open system. Using the two examples given, Portland and Gdansk both have long term strategies: Portland bucked the trend on the West Coast in terms of not having a weak city planning system and rather than having competing municipalities consolidated them into one city unit. It’s important to realise that the fiscal unit in a locality should be the same as the social and cultural unit.

Q: Richard Kemp: OK then, how distinct is Hyogo from other Japanese localities?

Akiyuki Hamagami: In many senses, very. Almost a little Japan.

Michitaka Nakao: I agree, globalisation should not be about trying to deny the uniqueness of cities. Identity is the spur of competitiveness, though when it comes to things such as promoting links between cities and regions around biotechnology issues, all of them claim to be the best, sadly.

Q: Cllr Ansuya Sodha (LB Barnet): In the local authority I represent as a councillor, the leadership have been pushing through policies to outsource as much as possible and introduce charges for better service. Are there any such movements in Japan?

A: Greg Clark: We shouldn’t be so hasty as to discount the role outsourcing can play to benefit social policies, for instance in Australia local government has been successful in using outsourcing to build new businesses locally. To my mind local government has four roles: to represent; to provide essential services; to regulate; and to attract and promote investment and development. If we look at the last one, you can see in cities like Zurich and Singapore that they have used this to attract talent by offering good incentives to live there.

Sarah Longlands: I think there’s a need to see outsourcing as being beyond the current efficiency agenda and in particular the Barnet example is one of lazy shorthand. You don’t improve the lives of poor people by having such polarised debate about what is essentially a procurement issue and instead we should concentrate on how to get the best price for what we need.

Akiyuki Hamagami: The outsourcing debate is current in Japan but nowhere near as advanced as in the UK. I agree that there is a need to find ways to lower costs to local government while providing the best services to local people and as such I think there are a number of areas which could be considered suitable for outsourcing among Japanese local authorities, such as street cleaning, public transport and passport processing tasks.

Q: Edward Richards (Homes for Islington): I work for an arms length housing company and in doing so there is a separation of functions between us as a provider and that of the local council. Does the panel think that separation of functions can hinder efforts by local government to come out of recession?

A: Sarah Longlands: I think there will always be situations where service provision is separated from the elected local council, so I am not sure of the answer here.

Akiyuki Hamagami: I think local governments should always soak up the opinions of local people and respect them. In Hyogo we have local ‘vision committees’ to achieve this.

Michitaka Nakao: My experience of this is limited so my answer will be brief, but in those areas of Japan in which I worked it was always important to form working groups of local businesses in order to secure consensus in the region for any new programmes or areas of activity.

Greg Clark: I think it’s important to examine geography rather than just functions and the role of leadership, in fact there’s too much emphasis on functions and not enough on these two.

Richard Kemp then closed the event by thanking all speakers and guests and hoped that JLGC would continue in London for at least another 20 years. A reception then followed, which was addressed by Professor George Jones and Toshihiko Akamatsu of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, who both paid tribute to the work of JLGC in London over the past 20 years. Both were introduced by JLGC Director Noboru Fujishima, who also thanked delegates for attending.