Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 37 - 59)




  37.  Thank you very much indeed for joining us. We were all rather ignorant about TACIS and we were most surprised to find that cities and towns in this country were so involved, so thank you very much indeed for your papers; they were extremely interesting and useful and we are learning very fast. Who is acting as the leader on this occasion?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I think it is me. My name is Graham Jeffs and I am the Chief Executive of Mendip District Council which is an average-sized shire district for England and Wales with a population of 100,000. We have a relationship with a city in southern Belarus called Svetlogorsk which has a similar population size, but after that is very, very different. It is a modern, well laid-out city, 36 years old, so a very young age. After having now had a relationship with this city for almost three years, I have discovered that we have chanced upon a city which probably has the largest collection of environmental problems of anywhere possibly, I suspect, of any region in the world. They host a chemical factory which is allegedly the largest in Europe, or it certainly was when it was built, and that spews out a cocktail of all sorts of nasty things, Chernobyl fell on it twelve years ago last month, and they now have an epidemic of HIV and they have a certain reputation within the former Soviet Union as being the capital of HIV, so that is our relationship. I am sure Sue and Bob can introduce themselves.
  (Ms Mullan)  We do not want to vie for the most polluted place in Russia with which we are working, but Kaliningrad, which Southampton City has had a relationship with now for about five years, has got huge problems. It is still a major military naval base. It is the only totally permanently ice-free Russian port and, therefore, was very, very important to the former Soviet Union. In Southampton we have a local company which has had a TACIS environment project there for three years now. They are helping with the fisheries programme in Kaliningrad, taking fish from the sea, helping with the processing, the sales and distribution, and they are very concerned about the pollution of the seas around Kaliningrad. Graham mentioned HIV and it is a huge problem in Kaliningrad as well. It is a free-trade zone, a major port, and they are working with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities who are very supportive of their anti-HIV programme. They are identifying 200 new cases of HIV every month, so it is a major problem for them. However, our programme was not specifically environmental, but it developed an environmental aspect as a result of the work we were doing on the urban transport system.

  38.  Do you have the nuclear submarines off the coast? Is that where they have been dumped?
  (Ms Mullan)  That is right, yes, and there are huge problems there.
  (Mr Pinkett)  I am Bob Pinkett and I am the Head of Passenger Transport for Hampshire County Council, one of the largest shire authorities in the UK with a population of 1.2 million. We have a long-standing relationship with a number of Eastern European towns and cities and a number of NIS towns and cities, including the Moscow region and Chisinau in Moldova. I am pleased to say that Chisinau is not the most polluted place in Moldova, it is actually a very pleasant city and its problem is that it is expanding rapidly and it has effectively seen something of an economic boom. The downside to that is the environmental aspect of a very nice city which cannot cope with the six-fold increase in private cars, and our particular project was looking at restructuring the public transport system to enable them to miss out the situation we have had in the UK. They are effectively where we were in the 1950s where 90 per cent of the population still uses public transport, and we thought that with our help, they might at least be able to retain the majority of those people still on public transport for years to come. So that is our angle and of course from the UK perspective it is particularly interesting to be working in that field.

  39.  We are very grateful and those are absolutely fascinating thumb-nail sketches of the problems that you have got. You have got your own particular expertise in urban transport and so on. Do you think there are specific priorities at the moment? We are particularly going to be looking at Russia and the Ukraine and on the whole the Ukraine feel as if they have been dominated by being concerned about Chernobyl and nuclear problems, but it does seem to us that there are other problems about clean water and clean air and so on.
  (Mr Jeffs)  Could I answer that very briefly by saying that our project is a Local Agenda 21 project and it underpins everything that we do and, therefore, it comes as no surprise that the conclusion that we reached and is now mainstream government policy is that everything is dependent upon everything else, so if you have poor transport, people cannot get to work, if you have poor housing, you get crime, and if you get crime, you get drugs and if you get drugs, you get HIV. We have all learnt now that everything is utterly dependent, so I would be reluctant, therefore, to select one particular environmental aspect and say that that should be concentrated upon. I think the thing that as local authorities we can teach the most to our counterparts in the former Soviet Union is that very fact, that everything is linked, that everybody needs to be involved in all aspects of the environment and they need a local strategy, which comes as news to a centrally-planned economy. They just cannot their minds around the concept (a) of a local strategy and (b), if you take a big breath, involving the public in the consultation, and that is one of the biggest hurdles that we are finding, that to have a proper Local Agenda 21 strategy, you must engage the public at all stages. Now, that is virtually impossible in the former Soviet Union and that is one of the things we are trying to convey.
  (Ms Mullan)  Can I pick up on that because I think that is very relevant to our project? We have had no prior collusion on this, so it is nice that we are picking up on the same points. With Kaliningrad, it is an enclave. I do not know if you are familiar with the geography of the region, but it is an enclave and it is very proud about its own area and now having the ability to determine its own future. I picked up totally on Graham's point about what local authorities in the UK have been doing for a very, very many years and that is working in local partnerships, actually identifying the corporate dimension of strategy development. One of the weaknesses we have found in the system in Kaliningrad where the municipality is asserting its own right to develop policies and develop democratic procedures, there is a weakness in identifying the horizontal communications, working with the Baltic Academy, working with other institutions—for example, the European Commission has set up an ECAT Centre in Kaliningrad which is helping to train local managers in environmental practice—and they were not able to see the lateral links between what we were doing with them and what the other institutions might actually add to that activity. The other area that we really sought to encourage them to think about was developing what we call stakeholders' committees in terms of the development of urban transport practice, bringing in private bus operators, bringing in representatives of local communities as well as the senior managers within the municipality and the local traffic police, so we have now got a stakeholders' committee in Kaliningrad which will hopefully encourage that lateral linkage.

Baroness Wilcox

  40.  My Lord Chairman, may I be somewhat naughty and pop a question in which I was not going to ask because I am a little bit thrown by these terrific linkages that are going on. I knew about twinning, but I had no idea, I must admit, and I served for three years on the Local Government Commission looking at shire England, for my sins, and I must admit that this never ever came up once in our discussions, so I can only assume that it is a fairly new initiative and, as a businesswoman, a consumer representative, I have to ask you why are you doing it?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I am tempted to say "How long do you have?" I have been Chief Executive at a shire district for 14 years and, if you promise not to tell my political masters and mistresses, this is by far the most intellectually stimulating thing I have ever been involved in and ever expect to be involved in. I say to people, "If you give me £300 and seven days of somebody's time, I will take them to our city of Svetlogorsk", from which I returned on Sunday, "and I will guarantee they will come back different people", so in personal development terms, it is unmatched. Secondly, it is an opportunity which will hopefully not be there for very long and that is to study, albeit briefly, an alternative way of government, a centrally-planned economy in a centrally-planned system. Belarus is even more soviet than the Soviet Union and it really is a fantastic eye-opener because everything on the surface is the same and sitting around this table, you would not be able to tell who were our friends from our partnership country. Their intellectual capacity is enormous and they are highly cultured people, but after that everything is so different and that is what stretches you intellectually, so we have learnt enormously.

  41.  I take that and I think that is wonderful, but I will just press you a tiny bit further. It takes time and money to do these things.
  (Mr Jeffs)  Yes, it does.

  42.  You have been elected by your local people to represent them locally, but the question I am trying to push you towards is: are you doing it because the money is good?
  (Mr Jeffs)  No. Frankly, the money is not good, but the motto of Local Agenda 21 is to think global and act local. You have got to have both of those. You have got to think global and Chernobyl must be the supreme example of that. Eighty miles down the road from our city, the balloon goes up and it affects the sheep in north Wales, so we have got to pass on the know-how and capability that we have here in a democratic institution which they just cannot get their minds around because nothing has changed in broad terms for such a long time. I think we are duty-bound. We have so much here, we have such a heritage, our environment is superb and I think it is an obligation and I am sorry if I sound a bit too enthusiastic about this.

  43.  Not at all.
  (Ms Mullan)  I would like to take a less altruistic perspective on it actually. I think it is about our own interests and from Southampton's point of view, I do not know how Bob feels about this, but we see economic opportunities coming out of these linkages. The European Union has changed the world and it is about cities asserting themselves, developing links, identifying opportunities to develop their own economies, to exchange experience. We know from our own previous experience that it is not just Kaliningrad, but it is many other cities across Europe, and that out of our contacts, out of our links, the university will benefit, local FE and HE institutions will benefit, the Chamber of Commerce will benefit and local companies will benefit, so there is the altruistic aspect, but it is about essentially our own interests. Also, the money is not good, but we do it very cost-effectively. Referring back to your previous presentation, the EBRD exchange, what I think we can demonstrate at city-to-city level is very small- scale, but very valuable people-to-people projects where politicians get together, senior technical managers get together, local academics get together and there is real value that comes out of that.
  (Mr Pinkett)  If I could just add to that, I think there is a range of reasons why local authorities get involved in this and there is an altruistic end of the scale and there is very much a business end of the scale. Certainly Hampshire County Council has gone into it in a very business-like way. We have developed a number of economic links now and, as I say in my paper, we are now involving some major UK bus companies. There is an opportunity for Wayfarer, the main ticket manufacturer in the UK, to set up a new factory manufacturing ticket machines in Moldova on the basis of our introductions. We are looking at the project in global terms but it must also be cost effective, as the TACIS project is funded on the basis of 20 per cent of the costs being met by the local authority, however creatie you are with the accounting. If there has been an element of time and effort from the local authority, you have to see the dividends, otherwise politically I would not be able to get permission to continue these activities. We are seeing spin-offs and indeed we now have a model, for example, of what we have done in the restructuring of Moldova, which now can be applied anywhere in the Soviet Union. This is a model which we will probably have to pass on to a consultancy because we cannot take it any further. Local government rules do not allow us to get into that next area which is effectively commercial, so what we have done is we have created a model which we can now sell pass to a consultancy for them to run with. We are very pleased we have done that and we think that is a valuable role for a local authority as an economic generator.

  44.  Do you think there is a coherent relationship between TACIS and other forms of technical assistance, including the UK Know-How Fund?
  (Mr Jeffs)  Very briefly, our project was pre-funded by the Know-How Fund. We extracted £1,000 out of them to do a pre-visit and we are about to apply to the Know-How Fund because TACIS has now withdrawn itself from Belarus to my utter dismay.


  45.  Because of the political situation?
  (Mr Jeffs)  Allegedly so, yes. I cannot really get to the bottom of why they have done it, but they have done it and it is extremely sad.

  46.  Well, they are hard-line Stalinists, are they not?
  (Mr Jeffs)  Yes. I am quite happy with the link.
  (Ms Mullan)  I personally think there should be a direct link. We applied for Know-How after we got our TACIS funding because we saw that there was the opportunity for far more work to be done and we would have used the Know-How Fund programme to bring more of our local private companies into the project, but unfortunately we were turned down and we were told that Kaliningrad was not a priority and transport was not a priority for Know-How, so that was a disappointment.

Chairman:  I think some of our questions may not be totally relevant, but what you are saying to us is absolutely fascinating, so please use our questions as hooks on which to hang more interesting information.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  47.  I have three questions here which are basically to do with the process you go through for applying for funds, the selection process, and how you view the way TACIS officially treats you in providing you with proper information and what sort of resources do your various districts and local councils commit to going through this application process. I would also like to get my supplementary in first, as they say, and ask whether you also go for other types of TACIS contracts that are outside your own particular twinned areas, if I can put it that way, because I think both Mr Jeffs and Sue Mullan said that there was not much money in it, but there are some contractors out there who think there is a lot of money in it and they are applying and they will complain about the length of the application procedure, but, nevertheless, they are making money out of it, so I was wondering whether you apply for other sorts of contracts as well.
  (Mr Pinkett)  If I could start on this one, it is a learning process and there is a skills base here of knowing how to fill in the forms. I think local authority people have a preeminent skill in being able to deal with bureaucracy as we have come out of that regime ourselves and it takes one to catch one, as they say. What we have found is that although the process is bureaucratic, whether you are a private contractor or whether you are a local authority, the more you do them, the more you know how to work with them. I would argue that the authorities that started out early, five or ten years ago, like the three authorities here, are the ones who are getting the repeat business, to use a commercial phrase, because we know how the system works. We know how to get early notification, we know the field and interest of the people who run TACIS and the PHARE programmes and a lot of other programmes, so we do not just have a working knowledge of TACIS, but a range of things. We will pick and choose the ones that particularly suit our authorities, and the ones where we think there will be a good link and a reasonable return. I sound very business-like here, but local authorities now in the UK are very business-like; we have to be, and our community charge-payers would not accept it if we were not. I think on the three points of your question there, yes, it is bureaucratic, but those who work it will know how the system works and will be able to find a way through it. We still find it immensely frustrating, the application process and the process afterwards, which I am sure my colleagues will talk about. The quality of advice is good, but not great and certainly in terms of the resources, we have got it down for doing an application to five person days with an existing partner and ten person days with a new partner. Having an existing partner, the great thing is to go for further extensions of the contract. Ironically, TACIS, a bit like EBRD were saying earlier, does not always allow you to have extensions to a contract, they want you to do something new and with a new partner. Of course the irony is that you have built the relationship, you have got the work going and the best thing is to do part two or part three of that work and complete the job, but that is not always possible in the way that TACIS see the projects should run.
  (Ms Mullan)  I do not think I have a great deal to add other than this particular programme that we were working with was called the City Twinning Programme. It was a new programme and we found that both the technical assistance staff and the staff within Brussels, DGA, were very keen to be supportive and helpful because they were trying to evaluate the best way of doing this and I think if you had a good proposal, if you are working in an area that they have recognised is of priority need, they would almost fall over themselves backwards to support your application, and I think that is very different from the sort of relationship that we heard about earlier where you are talking about private contractors where it is very, very competitive. I do not know whether that was your experience, Graham.
  (Mr Jeffs)  I think TACIS City Twinning is about 2 or 3 per cent of the whole TACIS budget, so we are small fry. The maximum that we can extract is 100,000 ecus, which these days is about £68,000 or something, which does not go very far. I have mixed feelings about the length of the application form. I felt ill when I saw the form to start with, frankly, but then I was cheered up with the thought that people think the EU is a soft touch and it certainly is not as far as this is concerned and you have got to produce reams of documents to get the money from them. It is competitive, but all money from central government now is competitive. We have got two projects going on and certainly the second application is infinitely easier than the first.


  48.  Can I just ask why the Know-How Fund turned you down? Do you know?
  (Ms Mullan)  They had encouraged us to go for it, but they said in the end, and I do not know how the decision was made and I suspect there is a slightl difference of approach between the Local Government International Bureau which manages the applications for local authorities and the ODA which holds the funding, but LGIB had certainly encouraged us to go for Know-How to support our project but after submitting the application we were told that Kaliningrad was not a priority and that transport projects were not a priority.

  49.  But you do not know what they were setting above those two?
  (Ms Mullan)  No, I am afraid I do not. It was rather discouraging.

Chairman:  That was a rather meaningless response, was it not?

Lord Elis-Thomas

  50.  Can I ask a little more about the role of the LGIB because obviously we know and love them in this House as producers of excellent bulletins and briefings on things like subsidiarity and so on, and they are very much the engine of a lot of this activity, bringing opportunities to the attention of various local authorities. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I think you have put it very well, that they do draw attention to them. TACIS was drawn to my attention by that very body. They came to the last conference I attended for TACIS City Twinning, and James Green from the organisation came and was there, offering the Know-How funding in the broadest sense, so yes, we are very pleased to work with them.

  51.  What about the people-to-people aspect? You emphasised that side of things which is the involvement of people and the cultural differences and also the city-to-city aspect which you have emphasised, and can I add to that the role of voluntary bodies and the attempt to develop the NGO role in those countries as well as part of the democratisation process?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I would agree, whoever has been quoted, that as far as TACIS City Twinning is concerned and our experience, this is wholly people-to-people. Elected members go and hold workshops on the democratic process, the way we do things, and we have involved a large number of our staff in one way or another in meeting the trainees who have come from Svetlogorsk and going there, so it is wholly people to people. I think once you get outside City Twinning, which, as I have said, is about 97 per cent, it is consultants and I would not like to express a view on that other than to say that it cannot be that much people to people. As far as our experience of NGOs is concerned, they really are embryonic in the fullest sense of the word in Svetlogorsk. A number of them are being formed, they take about six months to register, they are interfered with, and they find it very, very hard and they just do not have any idea at all about how to go about it, but again I say that that is something I think we can pass on, using our Council of Voluntary Services experience.


  52.  But that is Belarus, which is particularly Stalinist, as we have agreed. What about the other cities? Are they are bit more open to NGOs?
  (Ms Mullan)  We have a link with Kalisz in Poland and we have been working with them again for about five years. We have recently applied under the LIEN Programme, which is a European programme, for NGOs. Kalisz is really keen to help get disabled people into work activities and we have in the Southampton area a local charitable organisation which is very much using disabled people to actually produce goods that are required in the marketplace. We have not heard the outcome of this bid yet, but the Kalisz people are seeking to work with this NGO to get a similar activity going in Kalisz. The point I think I would want to make is that local authorities can be the catalyst to involving NGOs, to involving academic institutions and others in local government.
  (Mr Pinkett)  Our disappointment has been the total lack of involvement of NGOs, but we also have a situation where the City Council are a different colour from the national Government, even more so now that the Communists have been voted back into the national Government of Moldova, therefore we have been kept away from NGOs and outside bodies, our relationship has been purely with the City Council. That has been excellent because I think they are quite liberal and progressive, but the difficulty is that I think as a nation they are going to struggle without some development of NGOs.

Lord Walpole

  53.  I was going to ask you about your experience as UK partners of working in a European consortium. There was one thing I did particularly want to ask for sheer amusement and my own personal interest, and this is to Hampshire County Council. I was just wondering about car ownership and whether you recall the research done by Dr Malcolm Moseley in Norfolk who proved that the motorcar was the best way of solving rural transport problems.
  (Mr Pinkett)  Well, that may be a view.

Lord Elis-Thomas

  54.  It is not the view of the Committee.
  (Mr Pinkett)  That may be a view, and it actually reflects in part Hampshire County Council's own position. We are at the moment struggling to see whether we can improve urban transport solutions and keep the private car out of the cities and towns, but at the same time recognising that the private car has a very valuable role to play in rural areas. Therefore, we wanted to take that message to a city of, after all, 800,000 population where they actually have an excellent public transport system, a bit old and a bit battered, but if they maintained it they have the opportunity, as we sold them the idea, of being the "green city" of the NIS. They like the concept because then they get traffic management, paving over the centre of the city to make pedestrianised areas and maintaining high levels of public transport usage. Therefore, what we are seeing there is an opportunity for them to avoid making the mistakes that perhaps we have made in dismembering the good public transport we currently are trying to rebuild. So in response to that specific question, yes.

Lord Walpole

  55.  Can we go back to the one on the paper which is about your experience as a partner working in a European consortium?
  (Mr Pinkett)  I think that we have already touched on these points and again, as I say, the authorities which are here represented are the ones which have worked long and hard with other European partners in European programmes. We have a relationship of having either twinning or indeed business relationships with other parts of the world, so it is no surprise to officers in my team to be asked to comment on the workings of bus operations in a small town in the north of Moldova and there is enough expertise and experience to do that. What I think our experience of actually working with NIS people is is that it is all based on trust. We have spent twelve months or more, building up trust with the senior management of the bus company and the people we deal with, the City Council, local politicians. This is the way it works in Eastern Eruope, that you have to build up personal relationships and then they will trust the advice you are giving them. One of the most telling things we heard in Moldova was that they had the World Bank in, two Dutch transport experts, who came over and they told them how to fix everything but there was no follow-through on it. They said that the reason they like to have such programmes as TACIS is because the people come over. "They live with us, they work with us, they see our problems and they don't push us too fast and we can go at the speed we want to go at", and I think that is the joy of working in this sort of collaborative and partnership way, so I find that is fine. If anything, the only hassle of working in this sort of thing is the bureaucracy of making sure with the EU that all the forms are filled in and we meet their targets. I would say that we had a specific problem in that the programme changed. Once we had met the people, the programme had to change as the project progressed. What they originally wanted was to look at trams and investments of multi-million pound projects, but it was not going to happen and we needed a root and branch basic review of the service. Therefore, we went back to the TACIS office and said, "Can we change the project?" and it was a hell of a job to get the project objectives changed, even though it would have been the right thing for the city. That is a frustration for us because even UK local government now is much more flexible and much less bureaucratic than that and to come back up against that sort of attitude was very disappointing. I am sure my colleagues could add to that.
  (Mr Jeffs)  Well, we have no experience of working in a consortium. I opened by saying that we are a small, average-sized district council and the other part of thinking global is acting local and local for us is this particular city and we will stick with them, and even though we are tempted by TACIS to work with other cities in the former Soviet Union, we will not desert them just because TACIS has pulled the rug on the funding. Just to reinforce the point that Bob has made about trust, and it also refers to the previous question about people to people, it took us, I think, 18 months or two years of going backwards and forwards where we funded it privately, that is individuals paying for visits, to build up a degree of trust and understanding which is absolutely critical, and because much of the society of the former Soviet Union is fuelled by mistrust and innate jealousy——


  56.  And fear.
  (Mr Jeffs)  ——and fear, indeed, so we come along and in Belarus, the KGB is still operational, the racketeers are there, so add to HIV and pollution and Chernobyl those two factors, and it really is quite an interesting experience. Therefore, trust is absolutely critical on a personal level, so I spend several days going around all the senior officers and I meet them together, the management team, I meet them in their homes and I meet them individually and I try and encourage them not to pull the rug from the managers whom we are training when they go back home, which is just a routine thing to do because they are jealous perhaps because somebody has come here and had what they regard as a soft four or eight weeks, whereas actually we nearly work them to death.

Lord Walpole

  57.  Can I just ask whether you consider in fact that training is probably one of the most important things?
  (Mr Jeffs)  Absolutely.

  58.  And education generally? I know it is not in our brief.
  (Mr Jeffs)  I respect their system of education enormously. It is learning by rote, but it is there and it is working and the infrastructure has not collapsed as far as education is concerned. On training, we give management training as well as technical training, computer training, so they see examples of best practice relating to the environmental aspects or HIV or hospices, but I agree that training is the best thing that we can do at the moment.
  (Ms Mullan)  It is training plus exposure to our mistakes. One of the things we really did emphasise, because they were slightly in awe of us when they first arrived, we said, "We do not have the monopoly of good practice. Look at the mistakes we have made. Look at our public transport systems. Look at what has happened to our city centres because we have allowed cars free use of the highways", and that really did encourage them and make them feel far more confident about things, but it is about training. One of the things that they said at the very end of the project, which probably does not translate into English as well as it sounds in Russian, was, "You didn't give us the fish, but you gave us the net with which we could catch the fish", and I think that really was the key. It is a very successful programme, it is small scale and it is local, but I am sure its value is boundless.


  59.  It is very important not to be paternalistic.
  (Ms Mullan)  Absolutely.

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