Letter from China

In case any of you are suffering because I have not been using Twitter or Facebook it’s because it am In China and they are not allowed here. I can however blog!

Before anyone says I am on a freeby, junket or jolly I spent 33 hours getting here, and it will take me 26 hours to get back. I am here in total for 4 days and have already spoken twice using Liverpool as an exemplar of certain types of activity. I am now in a pre meeting for the Executive Bureau of United Cities and Local Government. UCLG this a sort of UN for local government. 173 countries are members of UCLG and I have been the UK representative for 8 years. I have just been asked to take on a role for this organisation which I will explain as soon as I worked out what it is.

I haven’t really seen much of China. So let me tell you what it is like being part of an international gathering. For an internationalist like myself it is great. Different languages, different clothing, different customs could be things that force us apart. Instead it is the difference that unites us! Everyone here is an internationalist otherwise we would not be here. We believe in two things:

1. The importance of local government and local delivery. Of course not everyone has the same belief in local democracy that we do in Western Europe and North America but whatever type of democracy or lack thereof the is no doubt that the more local delivery; the more local the decision making; the better the service will be.

2. We believe in working together by learning from each other and then supporting each other. This is particularly true of those of us from developed areas who wish to help those who, for whatever reason are unable to Ada CE as quickly as possible to our standards of service delivery. This means poorer living conditions, health conditions and education conditions for much of the world.

One of the things I have been spending most time on is the implementation of a new programmes for local government from the EU. For the first time the EU has set up programmes to help local government deliver services. and improve their capacity. Previously help only went to councils through national governments. EU member councils will provide assistance to these colleagues using staff and elected member resources. As I reported back from my visit to the UN they too are considering direct help to councils And are involving UCLG in the key decision making processes in New York. I wish that the UK government was as enlightened. Some of their money gets wasted either because the institutions they put money into lack the capacity to use the money effectively or because there is corruption.

I hope I can persuade the LGA to fully enter into and a support these international programmes. They are fully funded so there will be no charge to local taxpayers. We can not only provide expertise but we can learn from other countries in other situations. Looking seeing and helping can bring returns by way of new thinking and new experiences for our own councils and the citizens we serve.

Just a few thoughts about what I have heard.

Firstly in many ways we do not know how lucky we are to live in a part of the world that is geographically stable. Yesterday I heard terrible but uplifting stories about how countries had suffered earth quakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Within 1/2 years these countries has been able to stabilise their services BUT it took 10 years to get back to normal. Everywhere they talked of the wasted 10 years. The strength of the human spirit in dealing with such shocking situations is uplifting. “Yes we can” is not a political slogan in the Pacific rim but an actuality. People who have lost their entire families work together and band together to recreate their communities and their lives.

Secondly we should also be pleased that for the past 70 years we have lived in an area of great political stability. I was with Mayors from Lebanon yesterday and tried to put their experiences into context. They have had many people pour over the borders from Syria in the past 3 years. In proportion it would be the same as the people for England absorbing the people of Wales and Ireland. Not only providing them with basic housing big food, health services, education and at a rudimentary level all the things that we need to survive.

They do this with relatively little help from the developed countries although I am proud to say that the UK is often mentioned as a generous donor that keeps its word. That is why we should keep to our commitment to give 0.7% of GDP to aid activity in line with UN targets. When the Disaster Emergencies Committee appeals for help it pours in because of the generosity of British people. It is sad that a relatively small number of politicians appeal to the less generous concerns of a minority and seek to restrict this help.

But it’s not all work and disasters! Last night the European section met for dinner. I sat next to the President and a fellow Liberal who is Mayor of Alemere in Holland. She was saying how she had to learn all the national anthems of major European Countries when she was a girl. Her challenge was to sing them providing we joined in with our own anthem. She managed 8 of them but what impressed me was that she knew the second verse of ours. Most Brits don’t know we sometimes sing 2 verses (there are in fact 3 verses). I have heard many people sing the first verse twice to disguise their lack of knowledge!

Last night we made fun of each other’s. I blamed the Swedes for the viking invasions and the French for 1066! I took the credit for single handedly freeing the World from the German scourge. all this whilst sitting next to a close friend of mine a Mayor from Germany. We could joke because we were comfortable in each other’s company and knew that we were joking about some things that others would take seriously. Inevitably after the national anthems competition we snag a few more things. Some people knew Beatles’ songs better that I did!

Delightfully for me so many of the delegates here complimented me on the way they were looked after when they came to Liverpool in June. They thought our city was marvellous; that our public organisations were efficient and that our citizens were friendly. They are, of course, absolutely right! Already two people have told me that they came back for weekend breaks with their families. others said that they were planning to do so. When people come to our city they are entranced, want to come back and want to seek opportunities to work with us politically and commercially. I was proud to bring so many international visitors to our City and look forward to bringing back even more.

I am now going to listen to a session about water problems. isn’t it great to be able to turn on a tap and the previous fluid of life comes out of it. we have many problems in our country not least of which is the problem of inequality within our country. we are one of the richest countries in the world. If we had the will no-one in our Country would need to be ill educated, ill housed or ill fed. When in see what other countries can achieve with their scarce resources I am spurred on the greater efforts in my own.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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