Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cut councils clear

Goto, a remote island off the coast of south-west Japan near Nagasaki is an unlikely birthplace for a model society. But with local industry struggling and a population in decline, it has been selected as a testbed for the region's new social and economic strategy...unlike many British cities, Nagasaki has a convincing vision for its future. Its prefectural government (comparable to a large county council or combined regional authority) has set out a ¥42bn (£295m) "green deal" for the region that links plans to increase tourism and improve its record on sustainability to its economic and industrial future.
 
The plan is this: make up the population gap by encouraging tourism and use the tourist industry to spread sustainable behaviour such as driving electric vehicles (on Goto, for example, all hire cars are already EV or PHV vehicles). Then use this expertise in eco-sustainability to develop a new industry in green technology (Mitsubishi is already gathering expertise in offshore wind) to create jobs. If this "green deal" succeeds, it could convince the Japanese government to site a new offshore green energy hub within the prefecture, turning the region's fortunes around...

... lessons, in return, for British authorities from the bold vision of Nagasaki's senior officers and politicians. Imagining and believing in a different future for an area in decline takes strength.
Of course, it is easier to think big when central government is still providing investment (two-thirds of the funding required for Goto's electric vehicles was provided centrally). But though tussles between the two power bases are still common, Japanese local authorities have a greater share of responsibility, autonomy and fiscal control than British councils. The message for Whitehall? Give councils their freedom and they could grant you that elusive prize: economic growth. Full story here http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/feb/26/japanese-economic-growth-local-autonomy . More on cutting councils (like the one based at Bristol City Hall, pictured) clear of centralised control and the importance of the local here.

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