Do Britain’s city leaders have enough say in foreign policy?

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike annouces the name of new political party 'Kibo no To (Party of Hope),' during a press conference in Tokyo last month. Image: Getty.

Speculation has rippled across the world over whether or not Yoriko Koike will contest the upcoming General Election against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 22 October.

Whether Koike’s newly-launched Party of Hope is the winning ticket for Japan’s next Prime Minister, the governor of Tokyo has enjoyed the international spotlight. Cities have always set the pace for the future of work, trade and commerce; but Yoriko Koike has ensured that foreign policy and diplomatic affairs are increasingly taking place on a city level now, too.

It is worth noting that the governor of Tokyo, mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Anne Hildago of Paris and many other city leaders across the world have greater executive powers than city leaders in the UK, and command much more influence throughout the world – both commercially and in terms of international relations.

Foreign policy in the UK is a matter for central Government. Our new metro mayors need to engage much more directly with the UK’s strategic allies and trading partners – and to do this they need to have a greater say over shaping foreign policy.

Britain can’t afford to wait. Paralysis is gripping Whitehall and Westminster, with no majority Government in the House of Commons and the civil service machine sequestered to process the paperwork produced by Brexit.

Manchester and Birmingham are global cities. Foreign direct investment into the regions, in particular the North West, has grown at a higher rate than in London, according to EY analysis published earlier this year.

If our global cities are going to continue this trend against the headwinds of Brexit they need to have the right representation overseas, leading from the front in trade delegations.

India, for example, is proud of its investment in high-tech manufacturing in the West Midlands. And the region’s mayor Andy Street is a former managing director of John Lewis, where an Indian sourcing office comprises a large part of the business’ operations. His role will demand much more engagement with India from him.

Likewise, Manchester’s Chinatown is the third largest in Europe; does Andy Burnham wish to let the Chancellor set the pace of bilateral talks between the Northern Powerhouse and China on his behalf?

Now that we have metro mayors, it is time to use them to offer fairer support for representatives of different political parties on trade missions. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Department for International Trade should shed their institutional reticence and wariness of supporting initiatives of those representing other political persuasions.

Nothing changes until something changes. A post-Brexit Britain needs to be flexible and adaptive and question the way things are done.

A new, global Britain should take advantage of diaspora communities and their strength’s in facilitating UK-international relations. The influence that urban diaspora communities have overseas is going to be essential as public servants and government representatives chew over Brexit.

Like the West Midlands, London has a healthy representation from the South Asian diaspora. And with a South Asian mayor and deputy mayor, work is already being done to develop those ties with India and Pakistan.

Sometimes, only policies implemented at a local or regional level will enable the right kind of dialogue with international allies.

Take international student policy. There are over 400,000 international students in the UK, and we have Russell Group universities in every region in the UK. International students are a vital part of our trading terms with partners like India and one of the UK’s greatest forms of influence and soft power in the world.

By loosening restrictions on student mobility, the UK could attract double the number of Indian students we currently have, helping India to boost its skill base and bringing investment into some of the UK’s struggling regions. In 2010, when two-year post-study work visas were still available, numbers of Indian students in the UK were over 39,000; by 2014, they had fallen to 19,750.

Cities like Sheffield, where Oxford Economics found in 2013 that international students add about 14 per cent to the city’s annual income, would reap enormous economic rewards from encouraging international students to stay and work for businesses in the city after they graduate.

The same economic case was put forward by the last chancellor, George Osborne, to devolve business rates to councils and to strike devolution deals with city region jurisdictions. Why can’t it apply to post-study working visas too? 

Now is the time to reinvent the role of major cities in international politics – particularly in the UK, where urban economies and their international communities can compensate for Whitehall’s diminishing power.

Back in Tokyo, Yoriko Koike still has a mission to ensure the 2020 Olympic Games are a success, placing Tokyo at the heart of international ceremony. Tokyo’s challenge is to build on the city’s symbolic role on the global stage, harnessing its influence to tackle challenges such as the ageing demographics of the city and its need to bring in greater R&D investment.

Manoj Ladwa is an entrepreneur and the editor of a new study of the UK and India’s partnership, “Winning Partnership: India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit”.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

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