Activities and Events
Japan Day Seminar
Hosted in the Welsh capital Cardiff amid the splendour of the Edwardian City Hall, the 2007/08 Japan Day Seminar continued the rolling theme of devolution and better public services within the four nations of the United Kingdom, following previous annual seminars in Belfast, Edinburgh and London. On this occasion, the focus shifted to ‘The Challenges of Regeneration and Redevelopment for Local Authorities’, mapping and contrasting the experiences of both Wales and Japan in this important field of local government activity.
Though organised annually by the Japan Local Government Centre in London, the Cardiff seminar was fortunate to attract the local support of the Welsh Assembly Government, Cardiff City Council, Welsh Local Government Association and Solace Wales, as well as that of the Embassy of Japan, The Japan Foundation London Office, JETRO London, Japan National Tourist Organization and JCCI UK.
The seminar was chaired by Dr Christopher Hood, Director of the Cardiff University Japanese Studies Centre (and a former participant on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme organised by our centre) and an author on the changing economy and society of Japan. Dr Hood opened the seminar by drawing attention to the 150th anniversary of the opening of bilateral relations between the UK and Japan and illustrating how at that time Britain had helped Japan to modernise and emerge from its feudal society. Today both countries were leading nations within the G8 but with different approaches, with Japan learning from developments overseas, as well as utilising the JET programme to promote global links, and Britain often focusing on looking more to the US and Europe.
The proceedings commenced with the traditional civic greeting given by the Rt. Hon. Lord Mayor of Cardiff Cllr Gill Bird, who stressed the importance of Japan throughout recent Welsh history, through both the Japanese Studies Centre at Cardiff University, the Welsh graduates on the JET Programme and the presence of Panasonic in the city. She welcomed the celebration of the links between the UK and Japan through the seminar, which would promote greater understanding between Welsh and Japanese local authorities. Finally, she welcomed the return of the seminar to Cardiff, home of Welsh devolution, especially important during the anniversary year of UK-Japan relations.
The seminar then heard from Michihiro Kayama, Chairman of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations of Japan. In his address, he spoke of Cardiff’s proud history and the honour to hold the seminar in such a setting. Chairman Kayama paid tribute to the regeneration of the city, particularly the Cardiff Bay development. He then spoke of the challenges faced by local governments in Japan, particularly the national priority of improving the economic conditions of rural areas. He finished in saying that Wales was a suitable place for Japanese businesses in the UK, as shown by the presence of Panasonic and that the 150th anniversary showed the vitality of good relations between the two countries.
The first presentation of the day was given by Gareth Hall (Director General of the Department for the Economy & Transport, Welsh Assembly Government), who spoke on ‘Issues Facing Wales in the Process of Regeneration’. He argued that recent issues facing Wales have included:
- a changing economic structure – Wales has a history of mining and heavy industry. However, there has been a fundamental decrease in this economic structure over the past 25 years – the last mine in Wales closed in early 2008. The Heads of the Valleys area has suffered considerably from this shift.
- increasing global competition, particularly the emergence of China and India as global powers.
- economic inactivity – 10 per cent of Welsh people are economically inactive. Many of these people have long term sickness due to the legacy of heavy industry. There are also many cases of mental health problems and depression.
Hall emphasised taking a holistic, long-term (10 to 30 year) approach to these problems. He stressed the importance of engaging directly with people and to capture the imagination of the “silent majority”, rather than taking a top-down approach.
The vision must be joined up with a set of actions, with Key Performance Indicators set to measure not the actions, but rather the outcomes of these actions, he argued.
In conclusion, he suggested that when taking a holistic approach, the following is required:
- participation from all areas of the community including private and public sectors
- early wins – making early actions count to work as motivation
- recognise the expertise of not only those groups with money
- a dedicated team of full-time staff
- continuous communication
- for people to recognise that it is a long term plan
- the need an exit strategy for when communities start to become successful and self-reliant
The seminar then moved on to the presentation of Byron Davies, Chief Executive of Cardiff Council and President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives in the UK. The presentation ‘From Decline to Renaissance: The Cardiff Story’ focused on the particular example of Cardiff in the context of regeneration. Cardiff was given city status in 1905 and was once the world’s biggest exporter of coal. The North American rail system was, in fact, built on Welsh steel. During the boom years, many people came from all over the UK and Ireland to work in Wales. Deindustrialisation began to hit Wales in the 1970s and many people found themselves without work. Mr Davies expressed his sadness that despite the towns of Wales creating the wealth for the UK, these towns no longer feel good about themselves.
To encourage the rebirth of the city they had to address social issues, infrastructure, and environmental issues. Some of the projects and schemes undertaken include:
- pedestrianising the Queen Street area
- the creation of the PDR (peripheral distributor road) to take cars out of the city
- St David’s 2 – a scheme to develop the southern end of the city, including the existing St David’s shopping centre
- the complete redevelopment of Cardiff Bay
- the Millennium Stadium
In 1998 a summit of European leaders was held in Cardiff and Mr Davies argued that this represents the time when Cardiff reached maturity as a city. The 1999 World Cup Rugby competition and FA Cup matches were all wins for the people of Cardiff and Wales, making an important impression on important people.
Cardiff is now growing to be a city of sport. A £1bn international sports village is now being developed with world class sporting facilities including a 25,000 seat stadium. Football will be the big attraction and many job opportunities are coming because of this. The ambition now is for Cardiff to have world class quality of life. However, one of the biggest issues is the environment. In order for high quality of life it is aiming for a 60% carbon reduction by 2018.
The presentation by the Director of the Japan Local Government Centre in London, Shunsuke Mutai, was around the theme of ‘Making Japan’s Rural Communities Matter’. Director Mutai set the presentation in the context of the 2007 upper house landslide defeat of the Liberal Democratic administration and the new administration’s emphasis on closing output gaps between the regions of Japan, particularly in rural areas where the effects of sluggish economic growth have been worst. Japan, he argued, was facing the imminent challenge of a falling and, not to mention, ageing population also. The government had begun to respond to the imperative for reform through the mergers of local municipalities and the consideration of the do-shu system of regional groupings of prefectures, not least due to spreading inequalities between areas and the growing fiscal deficit in tax returns faced by some localities. The government had already begun with a regeneration strategy for such rural localities and was considering measures to encourage permanent residence in rural areas and halt depopulation. Specific examples of this were the one-off transfer of business tax surplus from the Tokyo metropolis to rural areas and the introduction of a hometown tax to hypothecate a slice of tax revenue to a person’s home or birth town while living elsewhere. One innovative new policy he drew attention to was the concept of the “second hometown”, where school pupils from urban areas were twinned with a rural town and spent one week a year there, in order to promote greater affinity with the countryside. In particular, some rural councils had become success stories through innovative new business ideas such as diversifying from grape harvesting to wine-making whereas others had used their heritage as an asset. This agenda was spreading to even television, where public sector broadcaster NHK was now programming on community issues. He concluded in saying that the ‘baby boomer’ demographic of imminent retirees should be seen as an asset not a challenge in terms of a ready supply of community leaders and activists.
After returning from a short break, ‘Adapting to a Changing Business Environment’ was the title of the presentation by Conrad McDonogh (Director of the Home Appliance Division of Panasonic Manufacturing, UK Ltd). He set out the origins of the company – Panasonic was founded in 1918 and grew under motto of “ideas for life” with a 250-year strategy and the goal to focus not only on profit but also to make a positive contribution to society. At its peak in Wales, Panasonic Manufacturing UK employed over 2500 people. However, since relocating much of its production to the Czech Republic the company now employs around 800 people. As a consequence, there have been problems of morale with these 800 “survivors” upon seeing many of their colleagues leaving the company.
Future challenges outlined by Mr McDonogh included:
- attracting and retaining a high calibre of staff.
- how to grow the site in an increasingly urban area
- increasing efficiency
- reducing the environmental impact
- dealing with commuting problems – traffic congestion is making is harder for people to commute to work
During the question and answer session, Mr McDonogh described the company’s transparency during the shifts in manufacturing to the Czech Republic. Workers were informed of the change a year in advance, not 30 days as they were legally obliged to. The current activities of the organisation include a laptop service centre, television R&D, and microwave oven manufacturing. Panasonic understand the need to contribute to society so are involved in a number of activities, such as National Tree Week in an aim to offset their carbon footprint, and tours of the factory for schoolchildren. The current Environmental Project aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 per cent by 2009.
The penultimate presentation of the day, ‘The Role of Local Government in Regeneration in Wales’, was given by Dave Gilbert (Deputy Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council) on behalf of the Welsh Local Government Association, where he is regeneration lead. He outlined the following key ingredients when local governments deal with the regeneration of an area:
- strong leadership
- political commitment
- leadership ethos
- adequate resources
- a long term vision – current projects look 5 to 10 years in the future
- taking an entrepreneurial approach using people who area willing to take risks
- pursuing fewer projects that make bigger impacts, rather than many small, low impact projects
He then identified what he saw as the challenges to regeneration of an area:
- economic inactivity
- spreading prosperity throughout Wales (e.g. road infrastructure)
- affordable housing – house inflation has been a large problem in Wales
- upgrading skills
- retaining young people – over the last 20 years the Carmarthenshire has lost young people to the bigger cities and gained older people who are coming to retire
- making the county attractive to young people (cinemas and wine bars have proven to be popular). They have found that many young people like going back to their roots after life in London and elsewhere but their home towns need to be attractive
- town centre regeneration
He then posed the question, how can local government respond to these new challenges?
- improve collaboration
- develop a “can-do” attitude, need to be reliant and committed
- use money wisely
- share best practice – in the past Wales has tended to be quite closed
- be responsive to needs
Mr Gilbert gave some examples of businesses working together with the community. The Technium building which is a high-tech building for local university student entrepreneurs has been developed. BP also transformed their old site into an environmental park. A gas pipe is being installed which will encourage massive expansion throughout the region.
The final presentation of the day was provided by Dr Naofumi Nakamura of Tokyo University’s Institute of Social Science, who examined the specific example of a company town and its efforts to tackle de-industrialisation, ‘Is There Any Hope For Kamaishi?’ He set this in the context of wider de-industrialisation and population trends in Japan and pondered the response to the withdrawal of core industries and how local social networks can occupy the void in their absence. The city of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture had provided a suitable case study for his investigations in 2006 with the phased closure of its core industry of steel-making. He pointed to what he termed “the social phase of hope”, that is the potential of the future for any area affected by such a transition. Since the closures began, 25 companies had since relocated to the area, with machine companies valuing the investment Nippon Steel had made in the local population and its skills base. However, he identified the lack of a common vision and identity of the city as an obstacle to overcoming the withdrawal of such industry. He argued that the rediscovery of local traditions could lead to the creation of such an identity, particularly among the young who held a bleak outlook for its future.
As chair, Dr Hood summarised much of the discussion which had taken place during the seminar and sought to identify common threads in the debate concerning regeneration and revitalisation of local communities in both the UK and Japan. He summarised the challenges of regeneration as being about holistic solutions and providing a long-term vision, though resources remain important, as does a common hope and a shared identity. He ended in posing the following questions:
Who is regeneration aimed at? Everyone, but is not a top-down process.
Where does regeneration take place? Everywhere, through not only strong cities but support for the wider area.
When does regeneration take place? Always, it is not just a 21st-century buzzword. He believed that we could do no better than to heed the example of the founder of Panasonic and to put forward a 250-year strategy for the success of communities based around “ideas for life”.
Delegates then assembled for the Japan Day reception in the National Museum of Wales, where the Honorary Consul of Japan in Wales Hugh Thomas closed the proceedings with an address to encapsulate Wales-Japan relations and the spirit of the event.