Examination of witnesses (Questions 37
WEDNESDAY 13 MAY 1998
and MR BOB
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
(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
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 institutionsfor example, the European
Commission has set up an ECAT Centre in Kaliningrad which is helping
to train local managers in environmental practiceand 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.
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
(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
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
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
Chairman: That was
a rather meaningless response, was it not?
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
(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
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.
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
(Mr Pinkett) Well, that may be a view.
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.
55. Can we go back to the one on the paper
which is about your experience as a partner working in a European
(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.
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.