Archive for March, 2013

“Made in Lewisham!” Supporting business in Lewisham

Written by Mike on . Posted in Lewisham Council

As part of Lewisham’s Fairness Review, which I have been involved in as a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee, we’re trying to help more local businesses to successfully bid for contracts with the council. Currently only 14% of council suppliers are based in Lewisham.

Lewisham, like most local authorities, is under huge pressure to make drastic cuts of up to 30% of our budget. The Fairness Review recommended that the council should work closer with local businesses, rather than huge corporations, to meet this challenge. The Fairness Review has even led to a change in Lewisham Council’s constitution so that for all contracts under £40,000 it will be mandatory for the council to get a quote from a local firms. Lewisham will be adding all tenders to the “Supply4London” portal and publishing all payments to suppliers worth over £250 to show the opportunities available.

This builds on the work of the New Economics Foundation who have demonstrated that buying local is worth 400% more to local authorities due to the “local multiplier”. The multiplier means: –

· that every £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36 pence if it is spent out of the area. That makes £1 spent locally worth almost 400 per cent more.

This work by Lewisham Council will drive more money into the local economy with the aim of cutting local unemployment and giving home-grown businesses more hope for the future.

Tony Blair in Burma

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog, International

Tony Blair recently met with senior government officials in Burma with colleagues from his governance think tank Tony Blair Associates. At the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw, the new capital, Blair met the Vice President Nyan Tun (former Commander in Chief of the Navy) and Minister Soe Thein (another former Naval Commander in Chief). The exact reasons for Blair’s visit are unknown and the trip was not publicised. A spokesperson for Blair’s office told the independent Irrawaddy journal that: “At the present time we are simply having wide-ranging discussions with the [Burmese] government on the development of the country because Mr Blair is interested in it.” One government source said anonymously that the talks could pave the way for a “governance initiative” Blair is considering establishing in Burma. It wouldn’t be the only “governance initiative” that Blair is involved in. He is currently working with President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

I have written before about how perilously fragile the political transition in Burma is. As my report on the situation in Burma found, the transition is not underpinned by essential legal and political reform. It will be interesting to see if Tony Blair believes he can help support such reforms.

Chavez and the Racism of Low Expectations

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog, International

If, as a local councillor, I was to spend my time consorting with street gangs who exercised authority without consent and packed the Council with political cronies selected on nepotism not merit, I would not expect to be celebrated by the Left. But Hugo Chavez was. No matter that he actively explored cooperation with the planet’s vilest dictators. He developed a “strategic partnership” with murderer Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Not as an accident of regional geopolitics – but an active embrace of tyranny. And in return, the government of Belarus has announced 3 days of mourning to mark his death.

It wasn’t just Lukashenko, he joked with President Ahmadinejad about building a “big atomic bomb”. He hailed Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin and was staunch in his support for blood-drenched tyrants staunch Col Gaddafi and Syrian President Bashar.

His celebrated domestic record was patchy. A welcome attempt to alleviate poverty and establish healthcare was shackled by Tammany Hall politics that drove up prices, packed public services with inept political cronies and left the shelves of supermarkets empty for the poor.

The contrast with Brazil, a social democracy whose leadership has served it well, is stark. Brazilians are 3 times less likely to be murdered in the streets, the press is still free and civil society strong.

The finest piece on this social failure is “Slumlord” by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker. The Tower of David, in the centre of Caracus, is totemic of this failure:

Guillermo Barrios, the dean of architecture at the Universidad Central, says: “Every regime has its architectural imprimatur, its icon, and I have no doubt that the architectural icon of this regime is the Tower of David. It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence.”

This isn’t a fringe issue. Labour MPs have praised Chavez’s handling of the last elections (I’ve heard silence on the last Brazilian elections), unions pay their members to go on fact-finding missions and Labour’s last Mayor of London built another “strategic partnership” with Chavez (how many did he need?). It is hard not to conclude that the Left suffers from the racism of low expectations.

London vs. Toyko / Importance of rail transport

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog

1. London vs. Toyko

A fascinating piece in The Atlantic on how Toyko, a megacity of 35 million people, has a transport system that copes with a population 5x the size of London – and is almost self-financing.

If you attempt to map their transport network on a single map (the Japanese incidentally, don’t) it looks like this: –

Both Toyko and New York have used bond issues to fund the transport infrastructure upgrades, a model ignored in the UK in favour of the PFI model. Whilst Toyko’s network is mostly private, New York’s is entirely public.

2. The importance of rail transport

The importance of rail transit cannot be understated For the 6,000 years we’ve been building cities, the transportation system you pick dictates the form of the built environment.

From Maria Popova’s Explore.

And a beautiful essay by John Lanchester on the cultural significance of the London Underground and the link between commuting and psychological wellbeing.