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Slovak right-wing extremist
elected regional governor
Bratislava, 27 November 2013: The victory of an ultra nationalist politician in regional elections in Slovakia has caused alarm among politicians in Europe who fear nationalist parties will attract millions of disillusioned voters in next year’s elections to the European parliament. Marian Kotleba, a right-wing extremist, won more than 55 per cent in a run-off election for regional governor of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia, even though his opponent, the incumbent from the country’s ruling Social Democrats, was supported by most centre-left and centre-right parties.
But some political commentators said that Kotleba’s victory had more to do with voter apathy - turnout was only 17.5 per cent - than with a popular switch to the right and pointed out that the Social Democrats won in six other regions, while the opposition centre-right Christian Union Party retained control of the capital of Bratislava.
Marian Kotleba, a former leader of a banned neo-Nazi organisation, now leads the right-wing Our Slovakia party. It has been reported in the press that he openly admires and praised Jozef Tiso, president of the Nazi satellite state in Slovakia during World War II, which dispatched thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Kotleba, a 36-year-old former high school teacher, has been notorious for sporting Nazi-style uniforms in public, and also repeatedly arrested for spreading racism and hate. He also regards NATO as a terrorist organisation and has organised demonstrations against the country’s Roma minority.
Earlier this month, Europe’s most prominent right-wing politicians, Marine Le Pen of France and Dutch Geert Wilders have announced the formation of a pan-European right-wing alliance. Both politicians have said that they are confident that the current grouping of the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party will shortly be joined by Italy’s Northern League and Belgium’s Flemish National Party. But Britain’s anti-European UK Independence Party and Germany’s newly formed anti-Euro party (AFD) have declined to join forces with the French and the Dutch right-wing.
Britain is falling behind other
countries in cycling safety
London, 25 November 2013: The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently reported that while cycle deaths in Britain have been fallen by some 17 per cent in the past ten years, the number of serious injuries was increasing faster than the number of kilometres travelled. The researchers also pointed out that cycle death in other countries was falling faster than in the UK. Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, France, Belgium and Denmark all recorded decreases close to 50 per cent. The research was published at a time when a spate cycle deaths made the headlines in London and Bristol.
In less than two weeks, six cyclists died in London, while in Bristol three cyclists were killed during a ten-day period earlier this month. The police forces in both cities have launched campaigns directed at motorists and cyclists. Their aim is to inform, warn but also to issue penalty notices where drivers or cyclists break traffic laws. In Bristol, police officers on bicycles have been chasing cyclists who failed to observe red lights. London Mayor Boris Johnson and his Bristol colleague George Ferguson have been promoting cycling and both are said to be committed to improving cycle safety.
Last month Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) published figures, which show that during 2012 more than 19,000 cyclists were killed or injured in reported road accidents in the UK. The total includes 118 fatalities and 3,222 cases of serious injuries.
These figures only include cyclists killed or injured in road accidents that were reported to the police. Many cyclist casualties are not reported to the police, even when the cyclist is injured badly enough to be taken to hospital. The figures also exclude cycling accidents that occur away from the road. Although the number of deaths is accurate, there could be two or three times as many seriously injured cyclists and double the number of slightly injured.
Most cycling accidents happen in urban areas where most cycling takes place. Almost two thirds of cyclists killed or seriously injured were involved in collisions at, or near, a road junction, with T-junctions being the most commonly involved. Roundabouts are particularly dangerous junctions for cyclists. Not surprisingly, the severity of injuries suffered by cyclists increases with the speed limit, meaning that riders are more likely to suffer serious or fatal injuries on higher speed roads. Almost half of cyclist deaths occur on rural roads.
The most common vehicle involved in collisions with cyclists is a car or taxi, with the rider usually being hit by the front of the vehicle. In a quarter of fatal cyclist accidents, the front of the vehicle hit the rear of the bicycle. However, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) present a particular danger for cyclists, especially in London where around 20 per cent of cyclist fatalities occur involve an HGV. These often occur when an HGV is turning left at a junction. About one quarter of accidents resulting in serious injury to a cyclist involved an HGV, bus or coach passing too close to the rider.
London near bottom of new
UK economic growth index
London, 20 November 2013: London was placed near the bottom of a table measuring growth prospects for UK cities. According to new research, medium-sized cities, particularly in southern England, were doing best in 2013. London, so dominant in most comparative measures, was ranked below average amongst cities with populations of more than 250,000. Reading, situated some 60 kilometres west of London, tops the table. Its strengths include jobs, incomes and skills. Aberdeen and Edinburgh follow. In fourth place, Southampton is the second highest English city.
London’s below-average score is, say the authors of the report Good Growth for Cities, a consequence of poor scores on affordability of housing, transport and working hours. John Hawksworth, Chief UK economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), comments “our analysis demonstrates that there is a rising price for economic success for many of the largest UK cities. Increased congestion, pollution, income inequality and high house prices contribute to rankings below that expected based on traditional GVA (Gross Value Added) measures.” In addition to London, some other of the UK’s largest cities such as Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle, were given negative ratings.
London’s performance stands out, with the popularity of the city as a leading international business centre causing its own challenges. Despite the highest income levels in the country, when measured against the wider range of publicly defined ‘good growth’ criteria such as affordable housing, transport and working hours, it slips below the UK overall average for ‘good growth’.
Amongst the cities that scored well on skills, and consequently achieved a higher place in the index, were Edinburgh, Belfast, Cambridge and Oxford. Nick Jones, from PwC says “competitiveness is coming down to not just how cities attract financial investment, people and skills but how they are speeding up their response to changing business, investor or residents requirements. They simply cannot afford to take 20 years to deliver major infrastructure developments.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron and new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney have been amongst many leading voices emphasising that the British economy must be re-balanced and recovery cannot be based entirely in London and the South East region. The Good Growth Index 2013 bears that out. Despite the much broader criteria used for this measure of cities than is the case in many other high profile international comparison studies, there is only one top ten entry (Preston) from the north and midlands of England.
The best and worst UK cities for 'good growth'
Direct comparisons between the 2013 report the third edition and previous surveys are not strictly possible because methodology has evolved. For example, the ten groups of criteria used have been modified this year to better reflect input from public and business. The weighting attached to each element in compiling the scores has also been altered. The weighting for skills, as a indicator for the future well-being of a place, was significantly increased in the 2013 exercise.
Measures used for the Index (with weighting)
• Jobs (16%)
• Health (13%)
• Income ((12%)
• Skills (12%)
• Work/leasure balance (9%)
• Housing (9%)
• Sectoral balance (8%)
• Income distribution (8%)
• Transport (7%)
• Environment (6%)
The report Good Growth for Cities was published in November 2013 by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Demos, an independent political think-tank. It is available free of charge
Economic gap between London
and other British cities widens
London, 12 November 2013: Paradoxically since the financial crisis, the City of London has become an even more important source of competitiveness and future growth for the British economy. The British capital’s financial district and eight other London boroughs account for the top nine most competitive places in Britain. A number of England’s largest cities - including Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Birmingham and Liverpool - have seen their position improve since the UK Competitiveness Index was last published in 2010.
In Scotland, Glasgow has also improved its competitiveness, while in Wales, Cardiff has seen its competitiveness fall. Amongst those cities that have improved their position, the most notable is Manchester, with the North West of England region as a whole showing competitiveness improvements.
In the case of the devolved administrations, local authority areas in both Scotland and Wales generally fail to show any overall progress, and are continuing to lose ground. The least competitive locality in Britain is Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales valleys, which has continued to see a continued erosion of its competitiveness.
Blackpool is the lowest ranked locality in England, while in Scotland the lowest ranked locality is North Ayrshire, which has seen a significant fall in its competitiveness during the last three years.
Professor Robert Huggins, one of the authors of the 2013 Index, said that the research by Cardiff and Nottingham Trent Universities indicated that the economic growth gap between London, particularly the City, and the rest of the country was widening. He added that following the introduction of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) by the Labour government in 1998, competitiveness had begun to become more evenly spread across English regions. Unfortunately the current Conservative-led government replaced RDAs with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which lack funding power and do not appear to have taken forward some of the improvements in regional economic capacity and capability that were beginning to become apparent prior to the demise of the RDAs.
“Outside of England, there is little to suggest that the economic powers and institutions endowed on Scotland and Wales have allowed their localities to compete any more effectively with their English counterparts. This points to the potential limitations of political institutions in promoting economic development within places ill-equipped to compete in a post‐industrial economic environment," Professor Huggins explained.
The report concludes that whilst government agencies and devolved political institutions have given the British economy the chance to diversify its competitiveness away from its dependence on the financial sector, this opportunity has not been embraced.
The best performing London boroughs
The best performing cities outside London
Munich voters say ‘No’
to commercial Olympics
Munich, 11 November 2013: Voters in Munich and three neighbouring Bavarian communities have rejected a plan to jointly host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Munich’s Mayor Christian Ude said the 2022 bid had failed after all four regions, including the Alpine community of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich voted against it. A spokesman for the Green Party, which opposed the bid, said the vote was not a signal against the sport, but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The mayors of all four communities had supported the plan.
The organisers of a Munich bid had to win referendums in all four communities, where the Games would have been held. Instead they lost. Results in Garmisch-Partenkirchen showed 54 per cent of the voters against the Games because of environmental, construction and financial concerns. Munich residents voted 52 per cent against the bid, while citizens in Traunstein were even less enthusiastic about it, with close to 60 per cent against. "We have to accept this result. Unfortunately, this is from our view a missed opportunity," the German Olympic Sports Confederation commented.
The Bavarian Nature Association called the vote a victory of love for nature over commercialism and gigantism. But the organisation acknowledged that the controversies surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, had also played on voters’ minds.
Kazakhstan's Almaty and Ukraine's Lviv have already announced their candidacies for the 2022 Winter Games, with Beijing and the northern city of Zhangjiakou also likely to make a joint bid. Last month Barcelona ruled itself out of the running.
English cities hit back
at Economist criticism
Hull, 20 October 2013: City leaders across northern England reacted with incredulity when a London-based business journal suggested that a number of medium-sized cities should be abandoned by the government. In two articles, The Economist magazine floated the idea that instead of investing money in towns like Hull, Hartlepool or Middlesbrough, public money would be better spent in larger cities like Leeds. The Economist argued that some towns were beyond help and that their inhabitants should be encouraged to move away.
The magazine wrote that Middlesbrough, Burnley, Hartlepool, Hull and many others were in trouble even before the post-2008 financial crisis. “These days their unemployment rates are roughly double the national average, and talented young people are draining away. Their high streets are thick with betting shops and payday lenders, if they are not empty,” The Economist explained.
The Economist believes that instead of investing in regeneration project, people should be helped to move or commute to larger cities where there are jobs. Perhaps half-jokingly, the magazine’s authors suggested that if enough people left the troubled towns they could over the years become desirable residential and tourist areas. “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them,” the Economist concluded.
Steve Brady, the council leader of one of the cites derided by The Economist, called the articles absolutely disgusting. "I don't know where the southern press gets this all from. Hull is on the cusp of leading the green energy sector in this country and even the Prime Minister has said we are pivotal to this,” Brady told journalists. Hull’s council leader also expressed his fears that article like those published by The Economist will exacerbate England’s north-south divide.
Business leaders in Hartlepool, another town criticised by The Economist, called the articles misguided and ill-informed, while Iain Wright, the local Member of Parliament (MP), accused the authors of lazy journalism. “It’s really prejudiced, ignorant journalism, which fuels the tired cliché of ‘it’s grim up north’.” Hartlepool council leader, Christopher Akers-Belcher, said the picture painted by the magazine bore little resemblance to reality.
Ian Wright’s accusation of lazy journalism by The Economist was reinforced when it emerged that Daniel Knowles, the author of one of the articles, spent only one day in Hartlepool before condemning the town as ‘failing’, ‘ugly’ and with ‘appalling schools’.
German cities ask for help
to cope with poor immigrants
Cologne, 14 October 2013: While at national level, immigration is one of the main issues that divides Germany’s political left and right, cities, whether governed by conservatives, social-democrats or Greens, are united in asking for greater resources to deal with large numbers of poor immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria. Many mayors are worried that from the beginning of next year, when Romanians and Bulgarians will have unrestricted access to other European Union (EU) countries, they will be faced with a new influx of people forced out of their own countries by poverty.
Sören Link, the Social-Democrat mayor of Duisburg, told the German radio network Deutsche Welle that every third person in the city was an immigrant, with many being housed in sub-standard accommodation. Duisburg has become a haven for people from eastern Europe ever since the closure of the Krupp steel plant forced original residents to move away and caused rents to fall in the city. A city official, who wished to remain unnamed, told City Mayors that monthly child benefit payments of €190 per child, was enough for a family of six to live on. “That may not seem like much to the average German, but for many of the immigrants it's more than they would have back home.”
Reinhold Spaniel, Duisburg’s city manager, echoed the concerns of his mayor. “Many of the immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are Roma, who live in desperate conditions in their home countries. They don’t go to Düsseldorf, Stuttgart or Hamburg because the rents are to high there.” He also told Deutsche Welle that most of the Roma immigrants had no qualifications, with some being illiterate. “Duisburg is currently home to 8,500 such immigrants and 500 more are coming every month.”
Organisations, dealing with immigration, agree that German cities like Duisburg can be overwhelmed by the influx of poor immigrants with few marketable skills and little knowledge of German but they stress that Germany was a rich country. “There is enough money to deal with the problems.”
A yet unpublished report by the European Union (EU), but seen by Deutsche Welle, says that Germany had no reason to complain and that the country actually benefits from immigration from other European countries. According to the report, which considers the effect of immigration throughout the EU on the welfare budgets of individual countries, EU immigrants make up less than five per cent of those who receive welfare payments in Germany - the same proportion as in Finland, France, the Netherlands or Sweden. “Most immigrants live in families in which at least one member goes to work.”
The EU Commissioner for Labour, Laszlo Andor, told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the large majority of the Romanians and Bulgarians worked and contributed to Germany's growth, in that they paid taxes and social security contributions and spent money.
Even the Mayor of Duisburg does not want to change immigration laws but says cities like his needed more government and EU support. "Romanians and Bulgarians have the same right to move around as the French or the English, but we simply can't cope with the problem with Duisburg's resources. We need help from the national government and the EU."
Very few women
mayors in Europe
London, 10 October 2013: While Paris is most likely to elect a female leader in next year’s municipal elections, there are very few women mayors in Europe. An investigation by the City Mayors Foundation also showed that while the number of female parliamentarians is on the rise in the EU, there is no strong push for more women mayors. Some prominent cities like Madrid, Zurich Geneva, Dresden and Warsaw have had female mayors since their respective cities’ most recent local elections, but in other cities, like Frankfurt, Bonn and Athens, women have been replaced by men. The largest cities in countries like Belgium and Italy have no women mayors.
Preliminary findings of research to be published next year show that Latvia and Sweden have the highest proportion of female mayors. But even Stockholm has had only two women at the top of local government since the current municipal system was established in 1920 and, since Latvia gained independence from Russia, all the mayors of Riga have been men.
Germany’s largest 365 cities have 28 women mayors (7.7%) with eight belonging to the conservative CDU, eight to the centre-left Social Democrats, and two to the leftist Linke party. Ten female mayors have no party affiliation.
Percentage of women mayors across Europe
(2) With very few British cities having mayors, the country was not included in the research.
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Slovak right-wing extremist elected regional governor
Britain is falling behind other countries in cycling safety
London near bottom of new UK economic growth index
London's financial district dominates the British economy
Munich voters say ‘No’ to commercial Olympics (Photo: Anti-Olympics demonstration in Munich)
English cities hit back at Economist criticism (Photo: The 'Deep' aquarium in Hull)
German cities ask for help to cope with poor immigrants (Photo: Placard reads: Right to stay instead of deportation)
Very few women mayors in Europe (Photo: Zurich's Corine Mauch is one of a few women mayors in Europe)