5 july 2022, the future of the future of britain...

Always a questionable use of time, the future of britain conference, indelibly tony blair's, was just about worth it. The soggy centre it was not. Stimulating, intelligent speakers like rory stewart, paul johnson and larry summers cast politics as real-world policy development: how to harness technology, address climate change and crafting messages with impact, alongside delivery on health, education and (kapow ! Batman-style by the one-and-only martin lewis), the cost of living. This kind of stuff does not make headlines. If there are two people on one side having a reasonable conversation, and two on the other having a fist fight, you know where people look and gather, talk and tweet about, and what makes the headlines. Peter kyle was excellent, and mentioned his cross-party amendment to the northern ireland protocol bill, remarkably passed after weeks of quiet diplomacy - which received not the slightest hint of news coverage. The conference did not duck this: polly mackenzie scolded blair for seeking to hand down technocratic solutions, and he later responded, that you need those that can get you into power and those with the capacity to deliver, not a 24/7 permanent campaign government. It was a day of thesis, counter-thesis and synthesis. We even heard from a caucus of american congressmen effectively working across the aisle, courtesy of david gauke. Consensus is not compromise. Quote of the day was ruth davidson's: the scale of our problems is such we don't have time for our politicians to be crap. She has a point.

30 june 2022, a gross challenge

I have rather neglected my blog, although put out a monthly take on linked-in when we publish our palestinian economic bulletin. The economic situation there is grim. This month, in the region, I focused on territorial integrity as a prerequisite for economic development. The evident lack in palestine makes strategic long-term planning all but impossible, as if 61% of an independent scotland was occupied by an english army, with a large police station at paisley on the outskirts of glasgow, controlling the roads between cities and all entries out the country, as well as drainage, water and power going in, with discretion over taxes collected at the borders, withheld whenever the english government became annoyed. If england's GDP per head was £50k and scotland's just £3k, workers would be flooding across the border, undermining the prospects of a sustainable independent scottish economy. In the west bank, "area c" is under total israeli control, with new israeli settlements continuing to be built, even deep in the interior, like har bracha, which is closer to nablus than paisley is to glasgow. The shvut rachel settlement, in the heart of the west bank, is set to grow five times larger. Even settlements israel considers illegal and sets the power of the state to evacuate, stubbornly remain. Meanwhile, 614 palestinian structures built in area c were demolished in the last 12 months, the highest ever apart from 2016 and 2020, and a new unit has been established to better map palestinian construction there. As it would test the scottish authorities to deliver a viable economic plan in these circumstances, so it is quite a challenge for the palestinians. They need rather more help with it.

Attached File: Bulletin, June 2022.pdf

1 november 2021, an eye-opening visit to "the region"

Back in the uk after 3 weeks in ramallah, jerusalem, tel aviv and visiting portland projects in nablus, the galil and other areas. There's great work being done, in very difficult circumstances, and being there does bring home how few of the economic factors that drive the economy are in palestinian's own hands, which makes planning and delivery extremely difficult. Life goes on though, even if its poorer and very much more disturbed than it should be, opportunities lost, growth restrained, potential unrealised. This adds a layer of intense sadness to crossing what has now become a stark border separating one people from another that did not exist when I travelled in the region in my earlier life. Some of this is chronicled in portland's latest palestinian economic bulletin, which covers the enormous fiscal and monetary issues facing the palestinian economy as well as the depressed state of tourism and trade. Things clearly need to change to carry on.

Attached File: October 2021 Bulletin.pdf

24 august 2021, another new chapter

As you can see from the video, I have been appointed as chief executive of the portland trust, a fantastic ngo dedicated to promoting peace and stability between palestinians and israelis through economic development. A great deal of what I have done before, in economic development, finance, leadership and diplomacy, in israel and oman, does seem to have led me to this exceptional opportunity. It's an honour and a privilege to take the wheel and work with our friends and colleagues in ramallah, tel aviv, washington, london, europe and around the world. Stable and peaceful coexistence for israelis and palestinians was a challenge of the last century. It remains a challenge today, and one close to my heart. I will do all I can to make a positive difference.

3 july 2021, double oh kevin

For the many wondering what I've been up in the months since leaving the oman aviation group and visit oman, it's all a bit hush, hush - but I'm still in muscat, working at the british embassy, on investment and trade - well that's the official story anyway. Actually, the team out here are doing great work for the uk, to where we return in a few short weeks, through whatever legal/circuitous/picturesque route avoids the delights of being locked up in an airless heathrow travelodge with 15-minutes escorted daily exercise if you're lucky... The epilogue was that we travelled through hungary, when a rather ridiculous quarantine corridor opened up for those attending the euro 2020 football matches, when we promptly bought 3 portugal v france tickets (an epic match) and were just waved in at the border on flashing our mobile phones on arrival, making our purgatory between one home and another a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Then it was onwards to leeds...

12 may, are mayors a level up ?

The relics of organisational structures larger than local councils but smaller than national government are a rarely visited cabinet of curiosities. The next wave is emerging. In england at least, "metro" mayors and combined authorities - let's just call them mayors for short - are beginning to look like a distinct tier. To every part of government, the layer below is incompetent and that above remote, but mayors are shaping up well as statutory supercouncils between voluntary partnerships like the northern powerhouse and western gateway and local authorities that quickly hit borders in search of economic development levers over transport, spatial planning and business support, the powers better managed at the functional economic area level that CAs were designed to extract from central government. Noting london is slightly different and the north east still evolving, mayors now cover 41% of england's population, 43% of its economic output and 14% of its land mass, the disparity no surprise as mayors were designed for big cities: london in 2000, and then manchester the first to use the now-standard CA model. The original modern city was closely followed by (full names here) liverpool, birmingham, tees valley, bristol, and cambridge, then sheffield and newcastle and finally leeds. Mayors will grow: 10 areas tried and failed, and at least 8 more are in the works. The geography is messy but symptomatic of the system's strength, generally born from council's upwards pressure rather than a central government blueprint. Indeed, mayors (aside london) have little power to act independently of their council leaders. Most integrate with LEPs, and some pragmatically stray into policing (the london, manchester and leeds mayors are also the PCC) and health (manchester). Though they show little signs of it yet, there is an economic logic in the mayors quietly looking inwards at the scaling up of service delivery, starting with non-core shared service centre type functions, though even that risks treading on their patrons' toes. A wonk sounding but important driver of eu integration is qualified majority voting, meaning no veto over decisions that apply to all. That is replicated for some CA decisions, though not for its most controversial power to raise revenues (via council tax), as birmingham, and manchester on spatial planning, found out. Such powers drove the evolution from technocratic CA to directly elected mayor. This crossed party political lines, being started by labour then continued by the conservatives, with neither a particular champion and both hesitant, a sign they are genuinely independent sources of democratic legitimacy. In the first round of elections, half the mayors (plus london) were from each of the two main parties, but this time around, with turnout up, they tipped decisively to labour, who now have 8 of the 10. As ben houchen and "king of the north" andy burnham showed, being mayor offers a wider soft-power platform if skilfully used, alongside the single point of accountability for negotiations that george osborne back in the day insisted on in return for powers and budgets. The mayors have progressed, with more likely to join the party. In one of the most centralised countries in the world, that is a good thing.

17 march 2021, shine on you crazy plankton

Ras al hadd is a case study in many things. Without electricity until 2001, seeing it now feels like development, paid for by oil, has taken yet another bite out of the world's wonderful wilderness, although the omanis no longer wandering around at night with candles may disagree. Many of the houses are rudimentary, children are in the street asking for chocolate and the local fishermen are paid an absolute pittance for the finest grade tuna that if it could get there quick enough would sell for hundreds of dollars in japan. Tourism, of course, is seen as a solution, but is and will remain a faint dream in this backwater of the coast where the gulf of oman meets the indian ocean. Good thing too, it is easy to think, as you walk through the white sands staring at the greenest of seas in this bucolic village. The big draw is the giant green turtles who swim literally thousands of miles to sri lanka and then come back years later to bury their eggs in the same sand. Seeing them pop out hundreds of ping pong ball eggs, as we were lucky enough to when a local took us there, is itself a wonder of the world you want everyone to see but know that if many more did it would kill them. Already, those village lights create great harm. Whereas once the thousands of tiny turtles that hatch and poke their heads above the sand every night in the season and run to the moonlit sea had a chance against the gulls and foxes, today they see only the bright lights of streets and houses, and almost all die. It shouldn't be beyond the wit of the authorities to fix and fund this through sustainable tourism, but it hasn't happened yet. The turtles are also drawn to the sea by the coast's real star: the legendary but rarely seen fluorescent plankton, and we were even luckier to be there on a night when it shone. Like the Northern lights, it is hard to describe this fabulous freak of nature. As the waves roll in, they become tipped in bright blue light, which glows intensely as the water breaks on the beach. Then, as the tide recedes, it creates a galaxy of bright shining stars on the sand that light up like a reflection of the night sky you always dreamt of seeing. Your feet sparkle, your hands, your eyes. It is absolutely mesmerising, and as long as we spent marvelling at the turtle, we spent five times longer with the plankton. Properly managed, plankton is the future, of this place at least.

2 march 2021, any time, any place

Back when we wrote the strategy on which a decade of successful policymaking in manchester was built, most chapters flowed easily: housing had people and initiatives ready to go, the environment was a dynamic growth area, transport was equally laden with long-term strategic vision and shovel-ready projects, skills bursting at the seams, governance and international as ever my party pieces, and the economic golden thread of agglomeration that bound it all together had been woven by genuinely world leading academics such as henry overman, ed glaeser and diane coyle. The runt of the litter though, was "sense of place", where the policy waifs, strays and bright ideas that didn't fit elsewhere washed up. This may seem odd for a place as vibrant and brashly confident in its identity, but when each of greater manchester's component parts weighed in, there were far more different parts than the whole. We did not want anodyne platitudes riffing on sustainable clusters, diverse competitive ecosystems fighting inequality with ladders of opportunity and safe, healthy and happy spaces, let alone a post-industrial revolution climate change greenwash (manchester: we started it, now we'll finish it). Strategy is important though, words make worlds. There is no economic development magic dust to sprinkle, but radical, coherent, strategic place-making can work, and is needed especially now as the speed of change increases exponentially. Today a barista, unheard of back then, is a more popular career than a barrister. With tribal and communal identities, place-based and not, more salient than ever, tying together the citizens of here, everywhere and nowhere, whether or not they want to be anchored, is a critical success factor for any place, as is attracting people to move there, charging and changing those places with new lifeblood. Ultimately, places are made by people.

10 january 2021, oag and out

So, this particular stage of my journey has now come to an end, as I leave oman aviation after a wonderful few years in muscat. I was there as the much-loved but old and dilapidated airport was transformed into the best airport in the middle east, indeed the world's leading new airport, in a totemic sign of the radical transformation of the whole country in 50 short years. I have made many friends here, at oman airports, oman air, transom, and of course the group, so many more I have worked with at various ministries, agencies and especially the private sector, the country's future. Aviation and tourism in oman may be down, but they are not out. The cliches about the omani people being so warm & welcoming are true and the tourist offer is so good, the calm, the vastness, the magic, that it will come good, and with projects like the astounding oman botanical gardens still to come, it must be that tourism & aviation in oman has a bright future. That though will be for another time and another team. Meanwhile, we will be staying around until the end of the school year and trying to make the most of our time here.

12 december 2020, trousers optional

Whilst odd at the time, now I am back in the office full-time, those many months "working from home" have a rather romantic hue. Despite the vaccine-fuelled race back to normality, those blurry backgrounds look to be a permanent feature of our work lives. Neither generational shift nor temporary blip, but inevitably something in-between, covid has bequeathed the comforts of home, if we are lucky enough to have them, as a halfway house feature of the eternal work-life balance debate. Inequalities of course will out, not only fading wallpaper, but poor wifi and loose kids are all on show, and more personal discipline is needed. Less traffic and commuting is a big plus, but video conferences rob us of the many benefits of mixing, networking and being amongst others, especially for juniors that just see things happen and learn from them. It's also bad for city centre coffee shops, though better for local towns. What blackberries started with after-hours emails, working from home takes further. It's also easier to hide. Some employers have boldly embraced the change, like linklaters, salesforce and twitter, cutting costs drastically. Lighting and heating bills are in practice just shifted to the employee at home, though it is not beyond the wit of the tax system to recognise and mitigate this (as it does for the self-employed) if government wants to give the trend an encouraging nod. Offices certainly lack utility without a critical mass of people bouncing off each other. Homes cannot help but throw up breakfast, chores, family and other barricades to speeding effectively through the working day. At its best though, home can also be a calm oasis, removed from calls, meeting and people running in and out to pass the time of day or pick your brains on some minor matter of the latest initiative. Working from home offers many benefits, and the future is surely a better mix for those companies and people wise enough to explore and innovate with their time and productivity to find a new balance between tech and tedium.

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