In 2009 I taught for a term at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an interesting time to be in the country. The government was trying to decide the best response to the previous year’s global financial crisis in an economy that was clearly unbalanced. Productivity was poor and the country’s manufacturing sector was finding it increasingly difficult to compete with Australia in the Pacific Rim. Conferences were held; papers written. One phrase struck me: the academic and author Paul Callaghan stated that New Zealand was in danger of becoming “a theme park with a farm”. *
Last week I launched a research paper on the Impact of Brexit on North Norfolk. I distributed the paper it widely and one thoughtful response echoed Callaghan’s sentiment. It came from Martin Collison, of Collison and Associates a specialist consultancy who have been assisting with change management in areas like ours. He wrote:
Technology enabled change is likely to proceed much faster than most people understand, the smartphone which so many people now take for granted and which pervades every aspect of our lives, only really took off in 2007 with the launch of the i-phone. The adoption of technology is a real challenge for those communities outside the golden triangle of London, Oxford, Cambridge, which benefits from higher data speeds and a concentration of technology businesses.
There is a danger that areas such as North Norfolk are too far away to benefit directly from the success of these technology hotspots and will end up falling back on being a high priced playground for those who do well in these other areas.
With a proactive economic response rural areas can grow in the future, but there are real constraints. Too often their own communities fight to preserve a rural idyll and some visitors positively seek out rural areas with poor online connectivity to detox. The cities, enabled by Metro Mayors, are also in many cases resurgent, proactive and lobby very hard to explain to government how they can deliver economic growth and as a result gobble up much of the available funding. To compete, rural areas need dynamic leadership which is clear about how they too can embrace technology, deliver growth and benefit UK Plc.
This struck me as both insightful and correct and I am grateful to him for letting me reproduce it. We are going to face immense problems of change in North Norfolk; we are ill equipped to reap the benefits that arise from a knowledge-driven economy and it will be younger generations who will suffer. A hard Brexit will make things far worse. Moreover, as Martin Collison, indicates above many of the older generation are quite comfortable with the present situation and see no reason to change.
Just before the 2015 General and Local Elections I, attended out of curiosity, a ‘stand for councillor’ evening at the offices of North Norfolk District Council. At the time in my small village we had real problem on broadband speeds and were investigating an innovative solution involving Wi-Fi transmission from a local church tower. One of the councillors at the evening event, who did not represent our area, had aligned herself with objectors to this initiative. At the meeting she asked me: “It is not a village where many people work from home, so why do you need broadband?” Doubtless the landed gentry said similar things about electric light on the grounds that not many people in the village were able to read. Not everyone will buy into the need for a proactive economic response.
* Callaghan, P. (2009). Wool to Weta: Transforming New Zealand’s Culture & Economy. Auckland University Press.
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