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The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for October, 2012

Different kinds of inspiration

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Being an Ambassador involves many different experiences. Going to see the new James Bond film was exhilarating, but even better was meeting members of the Swedish Paralympic team from London 2012 last Friday night. I’ve written in this space before about the spirit of the Paralympics, but to meet the individuals who embody it was truly memorable. It’s important that we build on the success of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The Government’s legacy programme is built around four key pillars:

  • A sporting legacy – harnessing the inspiration of the Games to boost community sport whilst also improving elite structures;
  • A social legacy – supporting community action projects and encouraging more people to volunteer after the Games;
  • An economic legacy – using the Games to create jobs, win new contracts, boost tourism and support the UK’s business interests around the world;
  • and An East London legacy – focusing on the long term regeneration of the host boroughs surrounding the Olympic Park.  75% of the Games budget has gone to local development.
  • To that we can add a green legacy; an ecological transformation of East London – vast areas of polluted wasteland transformed into the biggest new urban park built for more than a century.

There’s also a particular Paralympic legacy:

  • This includes improvements to the transport system to help people with disabilities travel more freely, and more opportunities for disabled people to play sport
  • We’re spending more money on elite Paralympic sport than ever before.  Nearly £50m in the run-up to the Games.  These elite athletes will provide inspiration for others to get involved in sport regardless of their disability and help persuade those who run sport to give disability sport a greater priority
  • We’re also spending on grassroots sports.  Sport England is investing £8m this year to help get disabled people into sport, through disability bodies like British Blind Sport and Cerebral Palsy Sport. As part of the School Games, children at participating schools (13,000, half of the country) will learn about and play Paralympic sport.

We also have our International Inspiration programme.  Launched in 2007, it has now reached more than 12 million people in 20 countries around the world, using sport to make a difference to communities.  A number of projects are focused on reaching out to disabled children, displaced children and children living in institutions.  We hope people around the world will benefit from London 2012.

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Happy Birthday Single Market!

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Guest blog by Alison Thorpe, Chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy in Sweden

Yesterday, a friend here in Sweden ordered a pram on-line.  The best price was from a French company.  The site (albeit in French only) helpfully gave a price for delivery to Sweden.  But it proved impossible to register as a customer outside France.  She put “Sweden” in the comment box and pressed send.  And the order was confirmed, to be delivered to “Stockholm, France”.   A few emails later, the situation was resolved, and the company was incredibly helpful. But I suspect that many other potential customers may well have given up!

Nevertheless, this led me to think about how Europe has become one big marketplace.  In fact, this week the Single European Market celebrates its 20th anniversary.  Historically speaking, 20 years is nothing more than a blink of an eye. But for most of us it’s still quite a long time. 20 years ago it was 1992. So how different did things look then?

For a start, mobile phones looked like bricks. In fact how many of us had one? It was 1997 before I took the plunge, and I remember wondering how I would ever send an SMS! Nor was Internet the ubiquitous thing it is today. Remember the excitement of hearing the dial-up modem squeal as it slowly-slowly- ever-so-slowly connected, while you waited impatiently to see if you had received any messages? (Or was that just me?)

Today things have moved on, and many of the day-to-day benefits we take for granted today are in no small part a consequence of the creation of the Single Market.  It encompasses 500 million people, with 21 million companies, generating GBP 11 trillion of economic activity.  The UK, like Sweden, sees the EU as its major trading partner, with about half of our exports going to EU countries.  Since 1992, the UK’s bilateral trade with Sweden alone has gone up 187%.  We estimate that as many as 3.5 million jobs in the UK exist thanks to the Single Market, which has also brought plenty of tangible benefits to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Svensson: cheaper mobile communications, more consumer choice over gas, water or electricity providers,  safer medicines, visa-free travel…. to name but a few.

But we can do more. A Dutch report suggests that a truly free market in services could increase current trade by a ratio of 3 to 5. And the European Policy Centre estimates that developing the Digital Single Market by 2020 could add another 4% to the EU’s GDP.  By way of example, e-commerce in 2010 in Europe was worth EUR 175bn, and it is growing fast.  Yet many of us still only shop on-line within national borders.  Sometimes this is because we choose to do so, but other times it is because it can be difficult to do otherwise, unless you’re as dedicated as my pram-buying friend!

Cross-border trade in prams may not be the bedrock of the EU economy but, added to the vast range of other goods and services that circulate within our single market, every little helps.  In today’s difficult economic climate, we need to look at all the options available to increase Europe’s prosperity.  And we need to ensure the EU remains – and becomes even more – competitive in the global economy.  The EU institutions, individual governments, businesses, civil society – we can all do something….whether we’re in Enköping, Edinburgh, Evian or Essen.

Who knows – maybe next time my friend can even order her pram, on-line, via her smartphone, finding the best possible price, without feeling the need to bang her head against the wall!

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Medicines and modernisation

Monday, October 8th, 2012

An appropriate issue to blog about on the day a British biologist, Sir John Gurdon, wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Sir John’s research on nuclear transfer in frogs in 1962 shattered the dogma that cells only develop in one direction – from young cells to mature cells.  He showed that differentiated or mature cells such as skin cells or brain cells still contain the genetic instructions to turn them into any kind of cell.  This discovery means that in the future replacement adult cells e g heart or brain cells could be made by taking samples from patients of their skin or blood.

Medicine and innovation more generally depend on breakthroughs like that.

We take it for granted that when we go to the doctor or pharmacy we will get the medicine we need. We hear of pioneering new medicines, which might eventually make their way into the clinics.  Things like Beta blockers, or the latest generation of flu drugs.  Sweden and the UK have been pioneers of new drugs driven by both our industry and our academics.

But the international pipeline for new medicines could be drying up.  Big pharmaceutical companies all over the world face the same challenge. Only a tiny fraction (5-10%) of all clinical trials delivers successful products. Those trials and the research which precedes them are hugely costly and time consuming.

So how to ensure that great new medicines continue to be developed? How are we going to develop the right conditions for pharma companies, large and small, to deliver new products, new jobs and investment?

Here at the Embassy, we’re doing our bit.

On 25 September I hosted a dinner for UK and Swedish life science companies, as part of a trade mission of fifteen UK research companies in Sweden to increase their business here. As a result they have already secured future business worth over £1 million.

On 26 September I had the pleasure of speaking at the Forska!Sverige event on life sciences policy in Stockholm.  There was a distinguished Swedish cast list, headed by Jan Björklund, with representatives of four other Swedish parties, too and lots of researchers, academics and other experts.  As a mere political scientist I felt very inadequate to the occasion!

Happily, I was joined by guests from the UK – George Freeman life sciences adviser to David Willetts, the UK’s Science Minister and Prof Chas Bountra , Chief Scientist at the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford. We set out the measures in the UK Life Sciences Strategy.

One of the key themes of our strategy is making the UK an even better place to do science and research.

So, we are cutting corporation tax.  We are cutting tax on income generating from patent medicines.

We are opening up our NHS to allow companies to come in and validate targets in the clinic, and benefit from NHS data.

Every NHS patient in the UK, unless they choose to opt out, is now a research patient, supplying their (anonymised) data for research.

The British government’s Nordic Science and Innovation Network, based in the Embassy here, will continue to build science, trade and investment links between the UK and Sweden in this important field, encouraging innovators to commercialise the medicines of the future.

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Challenges facing Europe: A British view

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Britain’s future relationship with the EU is a subject of constant debate.  This week our Minister for Europe, David Lidington,  has been in Stockholm,  addressing the challenges the EU faces.  He had good meetings with Carl Bildt and Birgitta Ohlsson.

In a talk at Utrikespolitiska Institutet he stressed that for all the attention given to the eurozone, the long term challenge for Europe was whether we could remain competitive faced with the shift of wealth and power to the emerging economies.  That would require some tough and bold choices, where the UK and Sweden had a lot to offer the debate.

So although it’s fashionable in some countries (not in Sweden) to say Britain has no positive agenda for Europe, the Minister made clear that we, like Sweden, champion further reform:

-    extending the single market to digital: why is only one tenth of e-commerce in Europe cross-border?  because the status quo makes it too difficult;
-    extending the single market to energy and services, which could reduce burdens for business and create huge numbers of new jobs;
-    pursuing enlargement to the Western Balkans and Turkey, bringing dynamic economies into the European mainstream;
-    pursuing external free trade, with the emerging economies and with the US and Japan.

David Lidington made clear that the debate was more complex than whether or not to accept a two-speed Europe. In practice the Europe of the future would be diverse and multifaceted. Not everyone would join the single currency or Schengen, but all EU member states had equal rights to participate in that single market and to help shape Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, underpinning stability on our borders and beyond.

The Minister made clear that the Coalition government in the UK was committed to active and engaged membership of the EU, that we were ambitious for reform and renewal, and that we had no closer or more valuable partner than Sweden in the long term challenge of pursuing our shared interests in building a modern, liberal outward facing and inclusive European Union.

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