Tomorrow night (13th September) I am embarking on a radical new approach for local and central government in the UK. I will be hosting a meeting with about 30 businesses who wish to trade in the environmental field with Mexico.
The background to this is the Memorandum of Understanding that I signed last year with the Mexican Ministry of Local Government which sought to develop links between the UK and Mexico to mutually share knowledge and opportunities. The week after next I will be flying out to Mexico to make a speech at the equivalent of the LGA Environment Conference and have had arranged for me a whole host of meetings with Mayors and regional government ‘Prime Ministers’.
In this Country we forget just how powerful regional and local government is in other Countries. In Mexico for example they spend about 70% of the total public sector budget. They are responsible for most environmental decision making and almost 100% of environmental actions. There will be about 2,500 officers and politicians present at the Conference so it really is a major trade opportunity if we prepare for it and follow it up properly.
Typically the approach of all central governments is to forget the very strong links that councillors have with councils. This has not always been helped in the past by councils who still view foreign activities as ‘jolly’s’. Those councils are now few and far between. Major councils like Liverpool work with businesses, universities, the tourism industry etc to create links which lead to trade and other business opportunities yet organisations like UK Trade and Industry have been as slow to recognise this work and these opportunities as we have.
I hope that this visit to Mexico will lead to:
- Me being able to make firm introductions to companies in Mexico; and
- Bringing Mexican decision makers back here to see the sorts of things that we do and the products that we make that might be beneficial to them.
If this works then I would like to think that we can establish a pattern in which the LGA can take a direct responsibility with UKTI for such trade development opportunities by building on existing links that we have with LGAs all over the World but particularly with Africa.
We can also build up a body of experience to assist councils as they develop the trade links which reflect their opportunities and circumstances and enable them to develop one to one links with councils.
Will this work? I don’t yet know but I am sure that it is worth trying. When I go to other countries there is a warm bond of common interest between sub national players. At the very minimum we always hate what central government is doing to us! But in practice many of the challenges that we face in urban environments around technology and other areas of activity are pretty similar world wide.
HM Ambassador to Mexico tells me that the level of trade with that Country is tiny considering that the Country is large and is developing as a nation just outside the BRICs. I hope that I will be able to do something about that over the coming months.