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Final presentations: February 2008

The delegates each gave a paper on 15 February 2008 focusing on one aspect of their time in England and at Warwick University. This is a brief summary of the papers by Peter Byrd, Academic Tutor for the Programme.

Jun Lin (Leon) analysed local government in the UK and compared the UK with the Chinese systems. Leon surveyed the varieties of structure of UK local government (unitary authorities, shire counties, shire district, London authorities, etc) and analysed their financial resources.

  • All local authorities are heavily dependent on Rate Support Grant from the government and on the National Non-Domestic Rate which is controlled by government in terms of amount and distribution. Local councils therefore are able to control only the level of Council Tax levied on private homes and the fees they charge for certain services. Council Tax itself is subject to government influences.
  • Leon summarised the characteristics of local government including the development of cabinet structures, the role of Chief Executives as ‘local general manager’ and the autonomy of local governments vis-à-vis each other.
  • There is a considerable degree of central control over local government. Central and local government constitute a sort of political duality but with central government control exercised through the legislative frameworks within which local government must act, the role of the Audit Commission and the development of central government imposed performance targets such as Best Value Performance Indicators (1999) and Comprehensive Performance Assessment (2002).
  • Local governance now includes important collaborations with the private sector, an example of which is CV One Limited which manages Coventry City Centre.

Chinese local government is undergoing reform. Leon argued that UK local government did encourage the development of local democratic forces and this could be applied in China where the incentive to participate in local affairs was lower. In China there was also competition between local governments rather than collaboration. Chinese local government could benefit from the development of performance evaluation systems and collaboration with local companies. However, it was important to maintain criteria for social performance alongside economic costs and profits.

Aijun Bai (Jean) studied the development of London as an international shipping centre and compared its situation with that of Shanghai.

  • London had a long history as a port and alongside the port had developed shipping services based around the Baltic Exchange and Lloyd’s (brokerage, insurance, arbitration, etc). London had developed its shipping services after the devastation of the 1666 Great Fire and the growth of the British merchant fleet.
  • Other ports such as New York and Rotterdam, and now Shanghai, had overtaken London and the British merchant fleet had declined but London had retained its dominance in terms of shipping services.
  • Shanghai was now the largest port in the world but, Jean argued, it still lacked a comparable shipping and financial centre. She explained what Shanghai needed to do in terms of service provision, service quality, attracting HQ organisations and developing Business Continuity Plans. She was particularly impressed by the recovery of London as a shipping centre after the Great Fire, the Second World War and, more recently, the IRA bombing of the Baltic Exchange in April 1993.
  • Shanghai was actively working on developing itself as a financial and shipping centre and Jean saw this as a priority for the future success of the City.

Aiwu Huang (Allen) compared the British and Chinese legal systems. In Britain the legal profession was, relatively, much larger than China - about 100,000 solicitors and barristers compared with about 120,000 in China. In Britain partnerships between solicitors had led to large limited liability companies being formed whereas in China law firms had only been able to operate since a law passed in 2007. Chinese law firms remained much smaller than those in UK.

  • In Britain and China the legal profession is largely responsible for its self-regulation. The All China Lawyers Association (ACLA) was formed in 1986. It was compulsory for a lawyer to register and remain in membership. In UK the Law Society and the Bar Council regulated the professional affairs of solicitors and the barristers.
  • Qualification and training. In China the normal route to professional qualification is by taking, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the national judicial exam. The pass rate was fixed at about 7% of entrants so that some candidates took the exam several times. This was followed by a one year internship. It was also possible to qualify as a lawyer after working within the legal system for a minimum of 15 years. In Britain the normal route to qualification as a lawyer was a good bachelor’s degree followed by legal training for one year (for law graduates) or two years (for graduates in subjects other than law) and then two years vocational training. For barristers the route to qualification was similar except that candidates also had to join an Inn of Court and eat 12 dinners. In both countries therefore the route to qualification was potentially expensive. Barristers could earn very large fees but the average income was less than for solicitors.
  • Allen discussed the limited roles for practicing as a lawyer in UK and in China by non-nationals. In the UK non-nationals could practice law and appear in court but could not describe themselves as a solicitor or barrister unless formally qualified. In China it was more difficult for non-nationals and Allen expected change to occur here.

In China lawyers can earn large salaries but lawyers are expected, and do, undertake unpaid charitable work on behalf of poorer clients - perhaps six cases a year. The larger UK law firms do something similar.

Yun Zhang (Wind) studied the development of shopping centres in UK, the US and compared the situation with that in China. Distinct shopping centres had featured in classical Athens and Rome but the first recognisably modern shopping centre, or shopping mall, had been built as the Country Club Plaza, Kansas, in 1923. A single management company of the Plaza hosted over 100 stores.

  • In the US the suburban shopping mall had come to dominate in the 1950s and 1960s to the detriment of the city centre. In the UK at that time the development of shopping centres had focused on the city centre and was part of the regeneration and modernisation of the city centre after the Second World War. Coventry and Birmingham (the Bull Ring rebuilt in 1964) typified this phase.
  • In the UK there had been a phase of suburbanisation of shopping, based on the American model of the shopping mall, in the 1970s-1990s but more recently there had been a switch back to the regeneration of the city centre, typified by the rebuilding of the Bull Ring (1999). The Bull Ring had contributed to the re-emergence of Birmingham as an important shopping destination and also as a tourist centre.
  • In China there has been both suburban and city centre developments based on the idea of the shopping mall and on shopping as ‘recreation and life-style’. However, a number of problems had arisen. Firstly, there were simply too many large shopping malls - 330 in provincial capitals alone. Secondly, the malls were too big to manage effectively and were too big for the number and spending power of consumers. Thirdly, many suburban shopping centres were too physically remote from their customers.

Wind expected to see shopping malls continue to develop but there needed to be a distinct Chinese characteristic and not simply reliance on an American model.

Dongsheng Lu (Dominic) presented a reflective study entitled Try to be Better. He had also written extensively on charities in the UK but wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on his time in the UK. His starting point was that life was about more than work.

  • Dominic argued for a respect for history and for greater cultural awareness. In his time in the UK and Europe he had visited many museums, galleries, ancient sites, churches, theatres, etc. China could learn from the British conservation of the past and respect for culture.
  • Dominic argued for ‘civic virtues’ based on being good to others, displaying good manners, helping others. In UK there were high levels of voluntary public order, respect for disabled groups and charitable activity. The benefits of charitable activity, for instance in ‘charity shops’ were that good quality goods were made available to poorer people, that goods were recycled rather than being discarded, that shops raised funds for good causes and, lastly, that those who contributed to charitable activity themselves felt happier.
  • Life should be lived on the basis of values other than simply the work ethic. This included a healthier life-style, time for quiet and for self, reading and also writing. From a global perspective UK had benefited from much earlier industrialisation than China and there was now a need to recognise in UK and in China green issues and the dangers of climate change.
  • Dominic argued that it was possible to live on the basis of these values. He gave as an example Christian beliefs and the absence of a similar set of values in China. What are the values today of China? The answer was to Try to be Better.