Memorandum by Mendip District Council
1. TACIS AND OTHER
In January 1996 Mendip District Council obtained
a grant of £1,000 from the Know How Fund, via the Local Government
International Bureau, to make an exploratory visit to the City
of Svetlogorsk. A Council Member and two Council Officers had
privately funded a visit in September 1995 but this second visit
was with a view to exploring the possibility of establishing a
properly funded project relating to an aspect of the environment.
As it transpired, the call for TACIS City Twinning Projects was
made shortly after the visit and the criteria appeared to fit
what had been agreed on the Know How visit rather well, not to
mention the maximum grant being about twice that of the Know How
Fund for local authorities. TACIS City Twinning has now been withdrawn
from Belarus for political reasons but, happily, the Know How
Fund is continuing to support projects and I am poised to submit
an application for Know How Funding.
2. PARTNERSHIP AND
Following our preliminary visit to Svetlogorsk
in September 1995, Mendip District Council agreed to establish
a partnership with particular reference on co-operation in respect
of environmental matters. In our view, an established partnership
is absolutely crucial for the success of a funded project such
as TACIS City Twinning. Some trust and mutual understanding had
already been established and this was fortified by a return visit
of many of the 23 representative key players from the City to
Mendip in April 1996. One further visit to Svetlogorsk then took
place before the project formally commenced in January 1997. I
would not like to go into a funded project cold without having
got to know some of the personalities well in advance.
3. 1996 CHANGE IN
I am unable to comment on any general changes.
4. IS TACIS A
As far as TACIS City Twinning is concerned (which
is only a minute proportion of the overall TACIS budget) in our
experience it certainly is a "people to people" programme
but I cannot speak for the mainstream TACIS projects, although
I will be surprised if "people to people" is an apt
description. Our first project, which is to assist the City of
Svetlogorsk Council in the preparation of Local Agenda 21 Strategies
and Action Plans, in consultation with the local population, was
very much grass roots. The three trainee managers who came to
Mendip had contact with a large number of colleagues working for
the District Council as well as the local community. They met
the press, elected Members and many local people. Exactly the
same applies when we spend time in Svetlogorsk with this project.
We live with families and there is a very lively interest in what
we are doing. There is no frustration relating to procedures or
institutional barriers as far as we are concerned.
5. THE COMMISSION'S
We have had extremely good support from the
TACIS City Twinning Technical Support Unit and from the task manager,
although I have a major reservation about the effectiveness of
the Co-ordinating Unit I have dealt with in the field.
6. AUDITING ETC.
I have been taken aback at the amount of detail
which we had to supply in advance to justify our project, especially
by reference to final measurable outputs and by how difficult
it is to extract money from the Commission. Our project was visited
in Mendip from the TACIS Co-ordinating Unit in Paris, it was selected
for monitoring which involved a visit of a monitor to Svetlogorsk
and Gomel and we were also part of an evaluation process of the
programme as a whole. It seems to me (as a entirely positive point)
that everything is buttoned down pretty effectively.
7. USE OF
The extensive use of consultants in mainstream
TACIS projects does not sit well with the concept of "people
to people". Our project consisted of local government practitioners
and elected members providing training and assistance for their
opposite numbers who have the responsibility to cope with mammoth
problems which are of a magnitude that has shocked us all. We
have a second TACIS City Twinning Project providing comprehensive
training and assistance in strategy preparation relating to an
epidemic of HIV in the City of Svetlogorsk. During this second
project (which is now half way through) we have involved a number
of service providers and experts. The engagement of consultants
has been minuscule. There is immense added value to be brought
to bear when a whole community is involved with another community,
as opposed to relatively disjointed consultants.
8. NGOS IN
Our experience of NGOs in our partnership city
is that they are embryonic, are very few indeed, are very inexperienced
and still fall heavily under the influence of civic society. Building
up NGO capacity is difficult but absolutely vital. Our experience
is that there is widespread environmental awareness amongst the
population but, since the collapse of communism, there is not
yet any effective mechanism for involving local people. This is
precisely what our project has attempted to provide and we are
seeing some progress.
We have no experience of PHARE.
10. EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENT
We have had no experience of this body.
Engaging in a TACIS project is not for the faint
hearted. It involves a huge commitment if it is to be successful
and really make a difference. It requires a commitment which cannot
be engendered simply from obtaining a consultancy fee. We are
convinced, however, that the exercise is worthwhile. There is
a massive job to be done and it is not until you have gained just
a little experience of civic society in the former Soviet Union
that the enormous cultural differences become apparent. Our partnership
city is in the contaminated region of Belarus following the Chernobyl
catastrophe, which environmental problems have added to the existing
problems arising from industrial manufacturing. The disintegration
of the Soviet Union has hit Belarus particularly hard as it was
where assembly took place for the other regions. People are now
concentrating purely on survival and it is an uphill task to persuade
some people of the importance of sustainable development and of
the comprehensive approach to all the problems which is required.
This is something where western European countries can genuinely
assist their counterparts and TACIS is a good vehicle for so doing
not to mention the legislative frameworks.
I will be pleased to provide any further information
you feel may be useful.
28 April 1998