Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 70)



  60.  And it is important also to recognise that we can sometimes learn things from their society and it is not all one way.
  (Ms Mullan)  Absolutely.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  61.  May I ask an unkind question and say that there are other European cities which have done a much better job about the way to manage traffic and the other issues you were mentioning. Presumably they also have twinning arrangements with cities in TACIS and the like.
  (Mr Jeffs)  Yes, they do.

  62.  Do you know how they get on? Are they more paternalistic because they have done a better job or do the Russians respect us more because of the problems?
  (Ms Mullan)  That is a very good point. Working in the European field, you actually become quite sensitised to the best ways of dealing with various Member State nationals and I think we are, as Brits, actually quite sensitive to other people. When we first put in an application for TACIS funding, it was as a result of a meeting that we had with the Mayor of Kaliningrad and present with us were contacts in Cherbourg because we work very closely with the French city of Cherbourg. They wanted to put in a TACIS bid as well and we agreed to go in on an tripartite relationship where the French would be majoring on social housing and we would major on urban transportation. We did not want particularly to major on urban transportation, but the Mayor of Kaliningrad very much wanted these two areas of activity. We agreed with the French partners that we would share the training so that part of the time their Russians would be in France and then we would receive their Russians while they would receive our Russians. Unfortunately, the French bid did not succeed, so that dimension did not work out totally, but we did send our Russians to France for a week so that they would see how a French urban transport system does work. If you want quite a humorous anecdote, with our Russians, we gave them an extremely good time, they worked very hard, they enjoyed their stay, everyone was very friendly and hospitable and they had a real insight as to how a local authority in the UK functions and how British people live, but we did not shower them with gifts when they left; we gave them some mugs with "Southampton" written on the side. When the French received them, they had them for a week and they sent them away with three buses and that is the disparity in the sort of resources we can access. We cannot possibly hope to give our Russians any buses, but they went away with three French buses. We were not paternalistic, we treated them as equals.
  (Mr Pinkett)  Could I just add that I think the interesting thing about the UK experience—and I am not saying we are nearer to the NIS in some sort of Third World way—is that, ironically, because of the breakdown of some of the systems we have had, we have got similar sorts of problems. They trust our judgment on this because we are coming to them not like Strasbourg with a perfect million pound tram system or whatever, but we are saying that small is beautiful and voluntary schemes are good, and also the self-help attitude and the commercialism which we bring and they are surprised to see that from local authorities. A lot of, shall we say, Continental local authorities are run much nearer to the way the NIS used to be run and I do not think that they want more of the same; they want something different and the UK authorities can give them that.


  63.  I think we want to ask about monitoring and evaluation of the TACIS programmes.
  (Mr Jeffs)  Well, during our first project which has now finished, we were visited from Paris by the Technical Support Unit and they completed a written report on us. We were then monitored by the TACIS Monitoring Unit which, in our case, was based in Rotterdam. They went out to Svetlogorsk and to the regional capital, Gomel, and we had a three-page report then. Then we were part of an evaluation process which was undertaken by a consortium of consultants again and they again went out to Gomel and to Svetlogorsk, so I think we have been pretty well examined. Again, if I may say so, it illustrates this concept, or it goes against this concept that getting money from the EU is a soft touch because it certainly is not. I think we have been put through a wringer on a number of occasions.
  (Mr Pinkett)  Can I add one comment and this is a cautionary tale? I have been advised privately that UK authorities have been evaluated probably more than any other authorities because the chances are that we will have done it right. We have seen a great deal of evaluation on all of our three projects and I know all the UK projects seem to have been. When questioned on this, there was a sort of implied comment that, "Well, we know that we would not find anything too horrendous if we went looking in your books but we might in some other cities elsewhere", so there is an element of that which is pleasing to know.

  64.  Yes, they were looking for a model to offer to other people.
  (Mr Pinkett)  Yes, indeed. They need to report successes and that is the problem for the TACIS planners, that they must continually report success.

Chairman:  That is a very cynical point.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

  65.  I think you have explained very clearly what you believe are the keys to success in a TACIS project which are face-to-face involvement, building up trust and so on, which must take a lot of time. How does one ensure that the benefits continue after the project has finished?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I think perhaps the answer is in the question. This is just part of, I think in all three cases, an ongoing commitment to particular cities in the former Soviet Union. Because Local Agenda 21 is such an overarching concept, and our HIV project flowed very naturally from that and we are half-way through that now, I took with me to Svetlogorsk the Director of Public Health for Somerset which is the Health Authority because, as I said previously, if I can get somebody out there, then I have got them as committed people. It hardly ever fails. I took the Job Centre Manager from Wells and he spent some time in their job centre, and also two youth workers in addition to the mainstream project workers on the HIV project, so we are looking forward now to undertaking projects. We have been asked to assist perhaps reflecting Kaliningrad on what we can do to get people with disability into work. The former Soviet Union guaranteed a job for able-bodied people, but if you were disabled, and I think there are 100 blind people, for example, in Svetlogorsk, you just sit at home, and you need every bread-winner you can just to buy the food at the moment, so the consequences of having someone disabled in the family are very, very serious, so we are looking forward to doing a number of other projects. Funding will be difficult because there is no TACIS and we will have to rely upon the Know-How Fund and we will try and be even more ingenious.

  66.  I was thinking maybe more about when you have done the training, built the relationship, and then the project stops. Now, somebody once said that the measure of success of an NGO is that it has a limited life and that the local community should not be dependent on the NGO and they should not be dependent on the TACIS programmes, and I am not saying you should become involved in other things, but what about follow-on activities? Can you draw any conclusions? Are there any signs that the enthusiasm for the project wanes after a while and has to be restimulated? How do you view that?
  (Mr Jeffs)  I think perhaps there is a bit of both, yes, perhaps it does wane and our continuing involvement can then help to reinvigorate it. A number of projects which have been initiated at that end will follow. They are now seriously looking at sustainable tourism. Belarus consists of one huge forest and there is enormous scope there in wildlife projects. They are looking at water purification, they are looking at recycling, so a number of things are going on. However, I do take the point, that occasional encouragement is very helpful.
  (Ms Mullan)  Could I also talk about the political context because one of our concerns was that it was all very well producing this training, but it was very much dependent on certain people's support and there was very strong support from the political leadership both in Southampton and in Kaliningrad, but we had to be realistic. We were talking about maybe six people within the municipality who were key to the project. Now, sadly, the Mayor of Kaliningrad died after our trainees returned, after the second phase of the training, and we had very much built a strategy that depended on that senior support being there. Having said that, we have got the continuing support of the politicians in Kaliningrad. We have not had elections following the death of the Mayor yet, but there is a temporary Mayor in place. There is a Transport Strategy Development Group which consists of representatives of private transport operators, the traffic police, the municipal and the regional authorities, as well as ordinary users and representatives from the neighbourhood committees, so we are hoping through that that we will have some ongoing life to the project, plus the fact that we have identified opportunities through Southampton University's Transport Research Group, the Baltic Academy, the Southampton Institute for Public Policy Unit and other developments have come out of that. One of the criticisms we had at the end conference of this City Twinning Programme was that people were geared up to continuing the work and we were all very, very disappointed to hear that there was going to be a hiatus and that after evaluation of this round of TACIS City Twinning Programmes, we would not know what the future would be until, I think they said, December of this year. Now, that really was a disappointment because we felt we needed to maintain the momentum, but we have sought to avoid anybody or any project being dependent on our support or the European funding and there will be an independent autonomy there which I think will guarantee its continuity hopefully without too many major political changes because that would be catastrophic.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

  67.  Could I suggest that one of the biggest helps to tourism would be getting the loos right and keeping them clean!
  (Mr Jeffs)  Do not even mention that! I think that applies to Wells as well in Somerset.

Baroness Wilcox

  68.  Very fortunately you were in the room, I think, when the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development were giving their evidence, so I think that might have been quite helpful to be able to sit and listen to them as well. What I am looking for really here is a comment from you on the availability of finance, for example, from the EBRD for project implementation and is there a problem of lack of experience of raising finance in the NIS? I am not sure, from having heard what you say, if you are going to be able to answer this question, but I think you will. I would also tack on to the end of that that they are not in the room now and it would be useful to me if there was something that they said about this funding which you felt actually was not consistent at all. It would be helpful, I think.
  (Mr Jeffs)  I just do not recognise the world in which they are operating.

  69.  I suspected that might be so.
  (Mr Jeffs)  I wondered if I was in the same subject inquiry. That is not a derogatory comment, but there is no way any sub-national, as they refer to it, body could obtain credit in Belarus. It is inconceivable. That is it really.
  (Mr Pinkett)  I think that with the sources of finance that they are looking at, invariably they look towards the World Bank and EBRD and they find that realistically there are not the opportunities there for them for the size of projects that we are involved in. Remember, we are talking about small-scale projects. We are not talking about rebuilding the city or anything like that, but we are talking about small-scale projects and that sort of money is not there. The frustration, I think, for us in trying to find ways of taking a project from the planning and creating the right environment for things to work in the future is if the next thing they have to go to is commercial investors. For example, in the city I am dealing with, they need to renew their fleet and the only way they are going to do it is by locking themselves into a very punitive system with Ikarus of Hungary or Skoda or one of the Russian bus manufacturers which it really would be better if they did not lock themselves into, but that is the only finance available to them. I think the local authority people generally have become very knowledgeable about this area, but our frustration is that we cannot obviously assist them to find any sources other than, at one extreme, the commercial providers of finance and these very big sources, such as the World Bank and the EBRD.
  (Ms Mullan)  In our experience, very limited experience, it has to be said, we were working with the local transport operator, Southern Vectis, and they were very much encouraging our people to think about improving the infrastructure by going for a major loan, but the Kaliningrad Municipality was not interested and it was very, very reluctant to take out loan funding of any kind and very concerned about being able to service the loan.


  70.  If you look at what has happened in the Far East, they are probably right not to get too deeply involved with it. Well, thank you very much. It has been absolutely fascinating and we have learnt a lot, I think, about actual projects on the ground and what can be done by enthusiasm.
  (Mr Jeffs)  If I may say so, if you are looking for projects to visit, then we can oil the wheels and very easily arrange some fascinating visits for you.

Chairman:  Thank you very much indeed, and we are most grateful, but I am afraid we are going to be stuck with looking at systems and things like that rather than projects. Thank you.

previous page contents

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999