Learning for the World from Warrington


Tomorrow I am setting off for Washington where I will be speaking at conferences of the National League of Cities; the American League of Mayors and the World Bank. I will talk more about these visits further on but I am delighted to say that my inspiration for the subjects that I will be speaking on during the week came to me from a speech in my our council chamber last Wednesday. The speech was given at the start of the meeting by the indefatigable Colin Parry who, since the death of his son Tim more than 20 years ago in an IRA bombing has devoted himself alongside his wife Wendy to furthering the cause of peace by furthering the cause of understanding between people of different ideologies and faiths.
I won’t dare to tell you what he said. You can find all about his beliefs and the work he does at https://twitter.com/peacecentre or at its web site http://www.foundation4peace.org. What his speech did to me was to remind me that out of the worst disasters – and I don’t think that there can be a worse personal disaster than losing a child in such terrible circumstances – good can come. That is, of course, if people of good intent want to make that happen. It would have been so easy for Colin and Wendy to retreat behind a veil of revenge or despair. Perhaps that is what most of us would have done. But they had a greater ambition. As Colin put it, “the work we does ensures that Tim lives every day”.
So his speech and looking up his website have given me much to think about in the past few days. What can I take from his work of promoting greater understanding; his knowledge of how to work across human divides and his ambition to make a difference into my work not only this week but in some of the other visits I will be making in the next few weeks.
All three of my talks and other meetings are about putting local government at the heart of the delivery of services to people throughout the world who are most in need.
I don’t know much about the internal governance structures of the USA but of course they do have a federal system of government. Not every decision has to be made in the Capital in their system. I also know form my visit to Arkansas in 2013 that they have a lot of mayors and a lot of councils. In Arkansas which has a population of about 3.25 million they have more than 1,000 Mayors and a lot more ‘District Judges’ who are the equivalent of Mayors in rural area.
In our Country local government is at the heart of the effective delivery of local services. This is not just what we deliver but in terms of the development of partnerships to affect all delivery and place making to provide long-term thinking about the development of areas and the services that they need. In our Country this is threatened by a massive reduction in funds available for us to work directly accompanied by a move to give us more influence over the money spent by central government and its agencies in our communities.
The USA and the UK are both Countries that should be proud of their work overseas. The UK in particular is the only country in the world to meet the UN target of 0.75% of our GDP devoted to aid. But too often money is spent via bloated and incompetent national bureaucracies and not enough of the money gets down to local level where local services can best be planned and implemented. So we want to talk to American local politicians about how we can work together both to learn from each other in the ways that we deliver our services and values but also how we might jointly influence our Governments and UN delivery agencies in how they spend their aid money.
Our meeting with the World Bank focusses tightly on this point. We are looking at the subject of resilience and how local government can work with the World Bank to both help communities become more resilient to natural or man-made disasters but also to recover from them when they have happened. In fact wherever you go in the World it is local government who do most of this work. Whether it is a Tsunami in the Philippines or human disasters in war torn areas it is local government staff who go in and get the services up and running again when peace has been restored. Council staff are the unsung heroes of so many desperate fights to return communities to normality.
Normally when we think of such disasters we think of the physical requirements first. Clearly if people have nowhere to live, no food, water or sanitation or no schools they can never rebuild communities. What The Foundation for Peace shows however that this work is only part of what is required. It is not only physical bridges that need to be built but human ones. Look at what happened in Rwanda where Tutsis and Hutus now live side by side in a Country of 16,000,000 live and where 1,000,000 were massacred in just 3 months. Look at the work of Desmond Tutu in South Africa where the reconciliation commission has brought together foes from both sides of a cultural divide. Think what that will mean in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq as the men of war give way to men of peace.
As Colin Parry said it is only chance that has put the Centre for Peace in Warrington. My hope is that all councils in all parts of the world can become centres for peace. Only at our level can communities be built or rebuilt and it is at our community level that we must break down the barriers of ghettoes based on religion, race or poverty and create united but diverse communities where respect for all is a cornerstone of their constitution.
As an afterthought if anyone thinks I am leaving my own constituents unattended I was out for 3 hours in my ward today and 6 yesterday. If anyone has any problems I can be contacted as always at richard.kemp@liverpool.gov.uk and I will respond to your concern s within24 hours which is always my aim.

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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