The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Posts Tagged ‘Northern Future Forum’

An informal forum for Prime Ministers

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

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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Europe, energy, and the green growth economy

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Last week I spent two fascinating days in Uppsala, talking to students about UK views on the future of Europe, and meeting local politicians, businesses and academics.

I stressed, as I did at a meeting with the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the UK’s commitment to the EU, but also our recognition of the need for reform.

We had a top UK politician in Stockholm last week.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, met his Swedish counterparts, Anna-Karin Hatt and Lena Ek. He also talked to actual and potential Swedish investors in the UK.

There’s a huge opportunity for Swedish investors in the UK energy market.  We need £110 billion investment over the next decade to replace our ageing energy infrastructure (coal fired power plants and nuclear energy) with a more diverse and low-carbon energy mix, particularly more renewable energy.

We start the process of decarbonising our economy a long way behind Sweden, given your natural advantages. Our aim is to have 15% of our energy from renewable by 2020 (which is our EU target), whereas Sweden is already, I think, getting more than triple that, almost half its energy, from renewables.

But we’re committed to meeting our goals: indeed we’ve set a long term goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050; that is why it is so important that we increase the share of our energy we get from renewables alongside other low carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

Ed Davey and Lena Ek talked to their Danish and Dutch counterparts about the need to make the case, in the EU and beyond, for a Green Growth strategy, showing that making the planet healthier is fully compatible with continuing to grow our economies. That will also be a theme when David Cameron goes to Latvia to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts at the third Northern Future Forum this week.

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2012: 12 Highlights

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

This is my last blog of the year. Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Herewith twelve personal highlights from a fascinating, fun and fast-moving year in Sweden:

  • January saw the first of many Ministerial visits this year. Lord Green, our Business Minister came for a big meeting on smart grids and renewable energy, one of many trade and investment sectors linking the UK and Sweden;
  • February involved a two-day visit by Prime Minister David Cameron, here to attend the second Northern Future Forum, bringing together PMs and policy experts from the UK and the Nordic-Baltic countries, this year looking at the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society and how to get more women into the workforce.
  • March was a particular highlight, with Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, spending three days in and around Stockholm, looking at social integration, education, architecture, climate change, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.  All areas where our governments, businesses and societies are working together.
  • April saw me in Gothenburg for a great event with British and Swedish business leaders and sportspeople marking 100 days to go the London Olympics.
  • May’s highlight was my first visit to Malmö, an opportunity to meet local politicians, journalists and business people and to talk to students at the university of Lund about the UK and Europe.
  • In June, we hosted two big receptions, one in partnership with the BBC and one with Brunswick, to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, including a concert of English music from across the centuries. And it was a privilege to attend the centenary events for the Stockholm 1912 Olympics and to receive Stockholm’s good wishes for the London games.
  • July meant Almedalen and several days of sunshine and seminars in the glorious surroundings of Visby.
  • August included a lovely week’s break in Sandhamn, enjoying the splendours of the archipelago.
  • September was visits season again, with the Head of the UK Civil Service coming to Stockholm to see how an Embassy works. Happily, he went away impressed!
  • October saw two more excellent visits, by our Europe Minister, David Lidington and the Chief of the UK Defence Staff, Sir David Richards, talking respectively about the prosperity and security interests the UK and Sweden have in common.
  • November saw England’s footballers given the honour of inaugurating the new Friends Arena and of being spectators to an amazing display by Zlatan!
  • December saw a British winner! Sir John Gurdon received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his ground-breaking research on reprogramming of cells. Work begun 50 years ago, which has led to stem cell research and the promise of cures which will benefit our grandchildren’s generation. A forward-looking and cheerful note on which to end. Every best wish for a peaceful Christmas and prosperous New Year!

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Women and old people first

Monday, February 6th, 2012

First, belated best wishes for the New Year. I’m sorry this blog resumes after a longer than expected interval.  I’ve been out of town a bit, as I’m serving on a UN advisory group on the future of peacekeeping. More of that later.

And I’ve been busy preparing for and hosting high level visits.  Our Minister for trade and investment, Lord Green, was here last week, promoting co-operation between the UK and Sweden, particularly in the field of smart grids.

He and I saw an Iphone app produced by a British company which showed in real time the electricity consumption in the CEO’s flat back in the UK.

The CEO could tell from the graph on the screen when his wife had boiled the kettle! All that is fun, but the real purpose is to enable consumers to make intelligent choices about when and how to use energy, saving bills and helping save the planet, too.

Talking of emergencies, when evacuating people in a crisis, the usual mantra is “women and young children first”.

This week my Prime Minister will be joining his Nordic and Baltic counterparts at a summit to put women and older people first.

Specifically, the Northern Future Forum in Stockholm on 8 and 9 February will consider how to unlock two under-exploited sources of economic growth:

–    encouraging more women into senior positions in businesss; and
–    encouraging older people to stay in the work force longer, increasing the output of the economy and reducing the pension burden.

The statistics are striking:  although women are over half the workforce in many countries, they are only a tenth of members of the boards of big companies and hold only a twentieth of the top executive jobs in such firms.

For the ageing workforce the change over the next three decades will be striking – in most European countries the number of over 65s as a proportion of total population will increase by around a third.

We all have a lot to learn from each other in these areas – how to get more women into business leadership (Lehman sisters, rather than Lehman brothers…) and how to make employment more feasible and attractive for older people.  You can follow the conference as it happens via the internet on

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