“In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade”: in the wake of Brexit, we need devolution more than ever

Brexit campaigner Liam Fox standing before a promise he will now, as trade minister, have to deliver. Good luck with that. Image: Getty.

There remains great uncertainty in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. Few seem to have a plan for what Brexit will look like and how the UK’s relationship with the outside world will take shape.

But while the desire for sovereignty and to “take back control” were top of many voters' list of reasons to vote to leave, the fact that we live in a globalised world where economies and trade supersede national boundaries cannot be ignored.

Much of the confusion about how Brexit will affect the British economy has resulted from the inability of those for and against it to acknowledge the realities of the position of the UK in the contemporary global economy. This failure to understand the realities of globalisation is partly why there is such confusion about how to deliver the kind of post-Brexit UK demanded by those who voted leave. But regaining national sovereignty is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in today’s global economy.

The interconnected world

The recent global financial crisis should have sent a powerful message. The degree of interconnection between places in the global economy has reached unprecedented levels and attempts to “unpick” these interconnections are highly problematic.

Globalisation is complex. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. Capital, goods and services flow within, between and across national borders – and the flow is uneven. It is often directed through key cities. So when we talk about flows of foreign direct investment between the UK and Germany, we are actually discussing flows of people and money between cities such as London and Berlin.

In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade. It is no surprise therefore that there were significantly higher votes to remain in the EU in cities such as London and Manchester. This is because these cities are points in the global economy through which trade, services and people flow. It is in these locations that we can most easily see the benefits of interconnection with cities in the EU and beyond.

Cities have benefited disproportionately from globalisation. Image: Andy Sedg/creative commons.

Outside of the major cities, the regions of the UK have experienced a downward shift in the scale at which economic activity takes place and political power is exercised. The national shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy has had a geographically uneven impact. Many manufacturing industries in the UK’s regions have shrunk or disappeared. This has not been helped by UK national policy which focuses on the financial services sector (predominately in London).

Globalisation’s disconnect

Globalisation has brought with it disconnection between the way that economies and their management have been simultaneously downscaled and upscaled. So, as well as the concentration of decision making in Westminster, there are also a number of decisions being made abroad that affect regions across the UK: the evolution of the European Union epitomises this process.

This upscaling of power is necessary. Many of the most important issues of the last three decades are shared across national boundaries – take for example environmental concerns. The formation of supra-regions begins with an acknowledgement of the benefits of removing trade barriers and having free movement of goods and services, which should create opportunities for all regions of the UK.

Cross-border concerns are better shared. Image: motiqua/flickr/creative commons.

In fact, the best hope for deprived areas of the UK is not to place decision making squarely back in the hands of the UK government. This gives power back to the very institutions that created and exacerbated the regional inequalities seen in the UK today. Benefits such as investment in local enterprises and infrastructure, improvements in working conditions and levels of employment result from international engagement and cooperation.

Those who – justifiably – feel isolated and economically depressed should call for greater decision-making power at a more local level. Local power, combined with access to international resources and opportunities, can start rebuilding local economies.


Globalisation makes this possible as cities and regions do not necessarily need to go via London for trade and investment. These connections are essential for local economies to compete in the globalised world.

But leaving the EU means leaving the hundreds of trade agreements the UK has with non-EU countries, and also possibly the freedom of movement of goods and services there is within the EU. Until these are rearranged (which will take several decades), the UK’s constituent regions may struggle to access international markets. So the “take back control” rhetoric offers no solutions, only problems.

The UK government has consistently failed to articulate the rationale and benefits of upscaling in its relations globally (specifically in the form of EU membership), despite the economic benefits it has brought. It is not about the removal of national boundaries but rather an acceptance of how so much of what drives the global economy occurs outside of these strict boundaries.

Closer economic cooperation is the only logical response to globalisation and the best way to ensure stable growth. Indeed, the short, medium and long-term impacts of the Brexit vote will surely serve to provide the UK with a harsh lesson in the dangers of going it alone.The Conversation

Jennifer Johns is senior lecturer in international business and economic geography at the University of Liverpool.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can we stop city breaks killing our cities?

This couple may look happy, but they’re destroying Barcelona. Image: Getty.

Can’t wait to pack your bags and head off on holiday again? It used to be that people would look forward to a long break in summer – but now tourists have got used to regular short breaks through the year. We love to jet off to the world’s glittering cities, even if only for a day or two. The trouble is, binge travelling may be killing the places we visit.

You may even have seen some “tourists go home” graffiti on your last trip, and it’s not hard to see why. Barcelona is a good example of how a city can groan under the weight of its popularity. It now has the busiest cruise port, and the second fastest growing airport in Europe. Walking through the Barcelona streets at peak season (which now never seems to end) flings you into a relentless stream of tourists. They fill the city’s hot spots in search of “authentic” tapas and sangria, and a bit of culture under the sun. The mayor has echoed residents’ concerns over the impact of tourism; a strategic plan has been put in place.

It is true though, that cities tend to start managing the impact of tourism only when it is already too late. It creeps up on them. Unlike visitors to purpose-built beach destinations and national parks, city-break tourists use the same infrastructure as the locals: existing systems start slowly to stretch at the seams. Business travellers, stag parties and museum visitors will all use existing leisure facilities.

‘Meet the friendly locals’, they said. Image: Sterling Ely/Flickrcreative commons.

Barcelona may only be the 59th largest city in the world, but it is the 12th most popular with international visitors. Compared to London or Paris, it is small, and tourism has spiked sharply since the 1992 Olympics rather than grown steadily as in other European favourites like Rome.

Growth is relentless. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) even speaks about tourism as a right for all citizens, and citizens are increasingly exercising that right: from 1bn international travellers today, we will grow to 1.8bn by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.

Faced with this gathering storm, just who is tourism supposed to benefit? Travellers, cities, residents or the tourism industry?

Market forces

Managing the impact of tourism starts by changing the way destinations market themselves: once the tourists arrive, it’s too late. Tourism authorities need to understand that they are accountable to the city, not to the tourism industry. When the city of Barcelona commissioned the University of Surrey to look into how it might best promote sustainable development, we found a series of techniques which have been incorporated, at least in part, into the city’s 2020 Tourism Strategy.

In the simplest terms, the trick is to cajole tourists into city breaks which are far less of a burden on the urban infrastructure. In other words, normalising the consumption of sustainable tourism products and services. In Copenhagen, 70 per cent of the hotels are certified as sustainable and the municipal authority demands sustainability from its suppliers.

Higher than the sun. A primal scream from the world’s cities? Image: Josep Tomàs/Flickr/creative commons.

Destinations must also be accountable for the transport impact of their visitors. The marketing department might prefer a Japanese tourist to Barcelona because on average they will spend €40 more than a French tourist – according to unpublished data from the Barcelona Tourist Board – but the carbon footprint we collectively pay for is not taken into account.

Crucially, for the kind of city breaks we might enjoy in Barcelona, most of the carbon footprint from your holiday is from your transport. Short breaks therefore pollute more per night, and so destinations ought to be fighting tooth and nail to get you to stay longer. It seems like a win for tourists too: a few extra days in the Spanish sun, a more relaxing break, and all accompanied by the warm glow of self-satisfaction and a gold star for sustainability.


Destinations can also target customers that behave the most like locals. Japanese first-time visitors to Barcelona will crowd the Sagrada Familia cathedral, while most French tourists are repeat visitors that will spread out to lesser-known parts of the city. Reducing seasonality by emphasising activities that can be done in winter or at less crowded times, and geographically spreading tourism by improving less popular areas and communicating their particular charms can also help reduce pressure on hot spots, much like Amsterdam is doing.

Turnover is vanity, and profit margins are sanity. No city should smugly crow about the sheer volume of visitors through its gates. If tourism is here to stay, then the least cities can do is to sell products that will have the greatest benefit for society. Whether it’s Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna or Bognor, there should be a focus on locally and ethically produced products and services which residents are proud to sell. Tourist boards should work with small businesses that offer creative and original things to do and places to stay, adding breadth to the city’s offering.

The ConversationWhether Barcelona will introduce these ideas will depend on the bravery of politicians and buy-in from the powerful businesses which are happily making short-term profits at the expense of residents and the planet. It is possible to do things differently, and for everyone to benefit more. It may be that the tipping point lies in the age-old mechanics of supply and demand: bear that in mind next time you’re booking a quick city break that looks like it’s only adding to the problem.

Xavier Font is professor of marketing at the University of Surrey.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.