At 7.30 in the morning UK time I woke up as usual to start work. Unfortunately here in New York it was 2.30. I eventually gave up trying to sleep at 4 a.m. and started to read some documents I was given last night.
So much seems the same between the US and the UK but so much is different. Two things really struck me on the way in from the airport.
Firstly a huge sign at the entrance to a hospital, “serious accident lawyers”. I suspect that there are no solicitors anywhere in a hospital in the UK and I there were they would not have their own entrance and huge sign. On the plane I sat next to a lawyer from Tennessee who told me that the US has more lawyers per head of the population than any other country in the world. Whilst she respected her Country’s legal systems she regretted that the law schools are still churning out tens of thousands more lawyers per year.
Whilst in the UK she did a little research into the NHS because health is her area of law. She was amazed at how it was still free at the point of access for anyone who needs it and wished that Obamacare, which was bitterly opposed by the right wing in the US, came nowhere near providing the same level of service to the poor.
Secondly, when arrived at the airport I asked where the train was to get me into to the centre. I was told that there wasn’t one. It took ages to find the bus service which was efficient but wholly inadequate for the numbers of people coming out of the airport. Imagine if the main airports for London had no train access. It would be chaos. As soon as we left the airport we went straight into a traffic jam and stayed there for much of the way into the City Centre. Once again I reflected that the wealthiest national on earth seemed incapable of providing a decent public infrastructure. At times the traffic controls seemed more like New Delhi than New York.
Within an hour of arriving I started an intensive series of meetings which will last until I leave for home at 1p.m. on Thursday. Sitting in a meeting room on the 30th floor of the hotel overlooking the river with mates from around the world we discussed the last time we had met in Liverpool. They all agreed with me that the view and ambience was much better in Liverpool which I am sure was totally unconnected with the promise of a drink that I had made. I was delighted with the memories that they all had of the meeting in our City. In particular they all loved the Town Hall and the spectacular dinner that was provided in the Anglican Cathedral.
We looked at some internal problems being faced by UCLG but most of our time was spent preparing for today’s meetings. The first three will be held in the hotel before we walk over to the first meeting in the UN itself – the first of 4. This afternoon we will meet Joan Clos the Secretary General of Habitat III which is the UN organisation which is looking at the future of cities. the discussions will be so relevant to the discussions that are taking place in the UK now. They are all about harnessing the power of cities by devolving powers to cities and conurbations. They are about creating sustainable communities in terms of both the environment and the economy,
My views on this are well known and I have recently blogged about devolution to cities as part of the devolution to Scotland debate. Work at the UN should help us shape international, regional and national thinking on this matter. Part of the work for us though is ensuring that local and regional government is up to the challenges that should be given them. In our view there are parts of local government thoughout the World including the UK which are not up to the challenge and lack the vision and drive to make devolution work so tomorrow I will be talking about capacity building work done by the LGA both in England and in Commonwealth countries through the Commonwealth Local Government Programme.
I also have another speaking slot in the UN itself when I will talk about the history of housing and economic regeneration in Liverpool for the past 150 years. A member of the policy team in the council has done a really excellent set of pictures which I will talk round. They will make me and more importantly our city look good!
I will miss a council meeting on Wednesday but I hope that my fellow Councillors and my constituents will agree that the opportunity to once more present the positive side of our city to opinion leaders from all over the World was too good to miss. I am the only UK representative on the Global Task force and I am determined to make the lost of the opportunity.
I will keep people informed about what I am doing whilst over here
and would, of course, be pleased to talk to people on my return.