The Lord Mayor of Liverpool with guests from Hamamatsu in Japan and their mascot!
Last Monday it was my pleasure to welcome some visitors from Japan to Liverpool. They were looking at the links between culture and regeneration. They were very impressed with the way we used our old buildings as part of the creation of a new Liverpool. I hope we were able to convey that getting the cultural offer right is a very important part of making our city one that people want to Live in and invest in. We spent some time discussing ‘big and popular culture’ such as the Puppets which have been stalking the streets of Liverpool since 2008. They appreciated that in Liverpool culture is not just ‘posh stuff’, such as the Philharmonic, Opera or art galleries but a vibrant activity which every one of our citizens can get involved in.
We discussed the importance of the European Capital of Culture year and how that had turned round our nation’s perception of our city. They really liked our Liverpool 1 retail development where we have not created a standalone shopping centre entirely enclosed but a space which is open and vibrant and part of our city scape. They thought Liverpool was very friendly and – obviously – really liked our Lord Mayor!
Next Monday I am going to Japan where I will spend 3 days in Tokyo and four days in Kumamoto City in Miyagi Prefecture. I am going as a guest of CLAIR which is a sort of international wing of the Japanese Local Government system. They have an annual visit from the UK and it is a major learning process for UK visitors. I have met so many ‘graduates of this process that I decided that I wanted to go along. The small group is mostly composed of council staff from around the UK and also a journalist who specialises in local government work.
The visit will give us a chance to get to know how local government works in Japan. From a brief visit that I have made about 8 years ago I know that its structure is very different to ours in the UK but they basically do many of the same things. They have to keep the streets clean; they have to collect and re-cycle rubbish; they have to show leadership for their areas; they have to get the cultural offer right. In other words they are the key provider of local and neighbourhood services.
Some will say that because they are different there is no point in going to have a look. That might be true particularly in Liverpool where politicians and officers have fought tooth and nail to prevent Liverpool comparing itself to other core cities. (Watch out for my next blog which will be delivered before I part these shores!) But they could not be more wrong. Going to see different ways of doing things challenges your own ideas and – provided you go with an open mind – should mean that you bring those ideas back to your own place of work as a way of stimulating internal change and improvement.
Of course we will not go to Japan, see some ideas and immediately come home and implement them. Nothing is immediately transferable from one culture to another. But if you ask the first question, “why do THEY do it THAT way?” it should hopefully then lead to the second question, “why do WE do it THIS way?”
Let me give you an example from my first visit. We went to the waste disposal plant for Tokyo City and saw a facility that dealt with all the waste for an area comprising 20,000,000 people. It had a huge recycling rate partly because people had to recycle into 14 different bins. I would never have dared make such a suggestion back here because our society works in a much more individualistic way. Anyway you have prats like Eric Pickles who just doesn’t get the importance of these issues. But in Japan individuals police other individuals and there is a collective sense of responsibility. That did however make me think of the importance of education and community involvement if recycling is to work properly.
So at 4 a.m. next Monday I will set off for a very long trip overnight. Two hours after arriving in the hotel for the first time we will be having an orientation session with CLAIR staff. I will be blogging whilst I am away and hope to share my thoughts and experiences as I go and when I come back so that you too can get the benefit of my visit.
Meanwhile back at the ranch our campaigns go on. This week we have delivered 6,000 letters across the ward about the way Labour are intending to take away yet more parkland throughout the city and build houses where the people of Liverpool want trees. And just in case anyone is in any doubt my laptop and I-phone will be with me the whole time!