The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

An informal forum for Prime Ministers

John Thurlow, Nordic Baltic Network Coordinator at the British Embassy shares his impressions from the Northern Future Forum 2013 in a guest blog:

What an experience! I have been fortunate to attend many events in my career to date, but the Northern Future Forum (NFF) is probably the most inspiring experience I’ve been a part of. To get up close and personal to so many Prime Ministers in such an informal setting as the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Riga is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often.

So what is the Northern Future Forum and why does it matter to the UK? The concept of the Northern Future Forum was conceived by David Cameron in 2011 when he hosted the first event in the UK. Essentially, the idea is to bring together the Prime Ministers from the UK and Nordic Baltic countries with a wide range of creative, imaginative and dynamic experts to look at policy themes that affect us all. The forum stimulates a sharing of knowledge and experience and wide ranging debate. As David Cameron said in his opening remarks at this year’s event, it is usually that PM’s speak to audiences and ask them to listen. The Northern Future Forum is different in that it requires the PMs to listen to the experts. The whole ambience of the event is different to anything I’ve experienced previously. Its relaxed atmosphere encourages innovative thinking. Even the PMs remove their ties, roll up their sleeves and look to the sky for inspiration. This is very different to the other more formal gatherings that are the norm.

This year’s Forum focussed on two key policy themes: The Green Economy and Addressing the Digital Divide. Over 50 experts from throughout the region briefed the PMs and shared knowledge and experience with their peers. The UK team was most inspiring. Nick O’Donohoe (CEO of Big Society Capital) spoke about Social investment and the Green Economy. Joanna Shields (CEO of Tech City) and Liam Maxwell (Chief Technology Officer) spoke about digital innovation and e government respectively. Tom Hulme, (Design Director at IDEO) shared his experiences of using innovation and design to promote and develop new business opportunities. Peter Boyd shared his Carbon War Room work (a “not for profit” organisation that seeks ways for businesses to make money out of reducing carbon emissions).  We were also fortunate to include Niklas Zennstrom (CEO Skype) who briefed the Prime Ministers over lunch on his business experiences in developing the Skype phenomenon.

At the closing session, Nick Boles the UK Planning Minister (standing in for the Prime Minister who had to depart slightly early) said that it was clear the legacy systems of old had to change. In this respect, the UK could learn a lot from our Baltic neighbours who were less encumbered by legacy. On green growth Nick was struck by a message delivered through several experts – it’s not sustainable if it’s not supportable. You can’t therefore rely on government subsidies for ever.

And for me, I was really struck by the sheer depth of knowledge and number of exciting and innovative ideas that are out there. I feel privileged to have played a small part in bringing them to the ears of the Prime Ministers. Roll on Helsinki 2014!

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