Last night I chaired the first meeting of the task group set up to review Woking’s town twinning arrangements. The task group was set up following a meeting of the Executive in December, where I proposed that the council should examine what benefits there would be in establishing a formal partnership with a similar sized town or borough in a developing country such as Brazil, Russia, India, China or South Africa.
As part of our inquiry we invited Marlie Roes and Chris Sansom from the Woking Town Twinning Association to give evidence about the work they are doing in promoting the relationship between Woking and our current twin towns, Amsteleveen in the Netherlands, Le Plessis-Robinson in France and Rastatt in Germany. They gave an informative presentation highlighting some of the school, sports and commercial exchanges that have taken place between Woking and our twin towns over the last year, and which helped us understand the limited financial constraints the association operates under and how little resources are available for town twinning activities.
Amongst the conclusions our group drew from its first meeting was that any new town twinning arrangement must deliver a clear economic benefit to the borough in terms of job creation or inward investment, and what the project should be cost neutral so the taxpayer does not bear a greater financial burden for town twinning activity than at present.
Over the next few months the task group will be taking forward a public consultation where we will be seeking views from businesses in Woking about what sort of international civic and commercial links they would like to see between Woking and the developing world. We hope to complete our work and prepare a recommendation to the Executive by the end of the year.
At a meeting of the Executive tonight, councillors agreed to support a Notice of Motion I tabled which calls on the council to open negotiations with a town or municipality of a similar size to Woking in Brazil, Russia, India, China or South Africa.
While the council already has twinning arrangements with Rastatt in Germany, Amstelveen in Holland and Le Plessis-Robinson in France, these relationships are symptomatic of an outdated view of the world. We are living through a massive shift in economic power as the BRICS nations, led by China and India, emerge as major manufacturers and service providers, while the established economies in Western Europe are in relative decline. These changes could bring us to greater success here in the UK, or they could destroy businesses and jobs if we have insufficient workforce skills, commercial knowledge and links with the emerging markets which are set to dominate the global economy in the next few years.
This matter will now be taken up by a task group which will examine what process would be involved in twinning with a new town, what the costs would be, and what benefits it could bring to Woking. We will be carrying out a public consultation to ascertain the views of residents and local businesses, and report back to councillors with our recommendations in due course.