Back from China, no blogging in the interim because, well, you can't. Certain URLs appear to be inaccessible from the People's Republic, including blogger.com. Reading blogs is also a bit of a challenge, but can be got around.
To the trip itself, well it was pretty hard work with tours of factories, universities, research centres and vocational colleges. We also had some time at tourist sites, but that was as tourist sites rather than as excursions if you get the difference. The Chinese looked after us very well and you could not fault the organisation from the government of Changzhou. They made sure that we had a guide always on hand and that the programme really covered what we needed to do. Of course this was only a first step, with a formal signing of a Letter of Intent between Changzhou and Basildon that will hopefully develop into a fuller Memorandum of Understanding.
However, the key question is, of course, what's the point? What was worth about £8000 of taxpayers money to take a four-person group from Basildon Council for a week? Well, it is like this: Basildon already invests quite a lot of time and energy in economic development. We have about 20% of the Essex GDP, a much larger share than our population suggests because of our very extensive industrial and commercial areas. This is done to promote business, which in turn means jobs and prosperity for our local community. Much business today is, of course, international, but a District Council does not have the capacity to run relationships all over the world, so we need to focus. China is the most populous nation on the planet and is undergoing rapid growth. Business opportunities abound, and that means prosperity and jobs for both Britain and China, because international trade when done right benefits everybody. Councils' have a role to play in this particularly in China because of the importance of local government in the Chinese business environment. A business relationship that includes the Council and our opposite numbers in Changzhou is likely to have a much smoother ride than otherwise. This is not just my opinion by the way, but was strongly articulated by the British businessmen that we met. If we have good relationships in China then that makes it more likely that British business that trades with China will come to Basildon District, which means more jobs for our local people. Even though we were only out there for a week, we identified two opportunities that may lead to new assembly plants in Basildon that are tied to Chinese engineering. Details are confidential, but if either of those comes off it will pay for a relationship with Changzhou for a decade, never mind one trip, and that is without the other benefits of cultural, sporting and educational contacts.
So, this was definitely worth doing, and is certainly worth building on for the future.