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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » October 1, 2010
Britain in Poland
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Shared Interests
October 1, 2010   
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Britain’s ambassador to Poland, Ric Todd, talks to Ewa Hancock.

Is the average Briton worried about the raft of reforms announced by Prime Minister David Cameron, aimed at making the state leaner and creating a platform for economic growth?
Britons know that we have been through a recession. In the election this year they chose a new government. There is consensus that we must reduce the fiscal deficit and that this cannot be done without difficult and painful choices.

What are the aims of the “Big Society” drive launched by Cameron’s new government?
As the prime minister explained, the Big Society is about a huge culture change where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities. It’s about people setting up great new schools. Businesses helping people get trained for work. Charities working to rehabilitate offenders. It’s about liberation—the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street. For years, there was the basic assumption at the heart of government that the way to improve things in society was to micromanage from the centre, from Westminster. But this just doesn’t work. We’ve got the biggest budget deficit in the G20. And over the past decade, many of our most pressing social problems got worse, not better. The government’s view is that it’s time for something different, something bold—the Big Society is that something different and bold. It’s about saying if we want real change for the long term, we need people to come together and work together—because we’re all in this together. Of course, there is no one lever we can pull to create the Big Society in the UK, we need a government that actually helps to build up the Big Society. This means a whole new approach to government and governing.

There are three big strands of the Big Society agenda. First, social action. The success of the Big Society will depend on the daily decisions of millions of people—on them giving their time, effort, even money, to causes around them. So government cannot remain neutral on that—it must foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action.

Second, public service reform. We’ve got to get rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale. And in its place we’ve got give professionals much more freedom, and open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need.

And third, community empowerment. We need to create communities with oomph—neighbourhoods which are in charge of their own destiny, which feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.

Will such far-reaching reforms have an impact on current and future British investment in Poland?
The UK is one of Poland’s most important trade partners. Despite the global economic crisis, bilateral trade between both countries continued to grow and in 2009 it totalled nearly £7 billion, £100 million more than in 2008. There was no recession in Poland and its economy noted positive GDP growth. It was worse in the UK. But the recession is over and Britain is growing. We do face economic difficulties but the British economy has many strengths. Britain is a great place to do business. We have world class industries. I am confident about the development of economic relations between our two countries. Ties between Britain and Poland are very strong, not least because of all the networks of human relations which make businesses work.

You said a year ago, while opening the new British embassy in Warsaw, that bilateral relations between Britain and Poland were the best in history. Is that still the case?
Definitely, we are still convinced that there are lots of shared interests between Britain and Poland and that the excellent relations between Britain and Poland will continue. My personal aim is still the same: to make sure that Britain and Poland always vote the same way in the European Union and in NATO. I want Britain and Poland to help lead the EU in finding more effective policies on economic reform in Europe, on completing the single market, on Ukraine, on Russia, on energy, on climate change and on trade, especially during the upcoming Polish EU presidency.
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