It is a huge pleasure to be in Kiev again. I want to thank you for the opportunity to come here to meet with you all, and for inviting an Englishman to speak in this most crucial part of Europe.
In many parts of the world they say, "You can tell and Englishman anywhere, but you cannot tell him much". In other words, he thinks he knows best. I will try to avoid that trap this morning.
It is not really my role to talk about the detail of Participatory Budgeting. There are people in Britain who promote it, and they have some success. I wish they had more. But whoever controls the budget controls the organisation, and not many people like to lose control, even if the results they could achieve are really impressive.
I am a farmer by profession, and I take a farmer's approach. If I want the seeds that I plant to grow well, I have to prepare the soil to receive them. When it comes to Participatory Budgeting, if we want people to be willing to share control we have to prepare the ground by building trust. Nobody will share control with someone they do not trust.
I come from a country with many divisions. Believe it or not, the referendum in 2016 about whether we should leave the European Union was itself supposed to resolve a very divisive question and to build trust. In fact it divided us more radically than ever, as I have seen when I have been involved in some very modest efforts to start to rebuild that trust.
So it is quite possible that ideas that are supposed to bring us together can end up driving us even further apart, unless someone prepares the ground well. And when they do, the results can be spectacular.
To give an example, in South Wales, not far from where I live is a big steelworks known as the Llanwern steelworks. When Margaret Thatcher became our Prime Minister, the steel industry had been nationalised, and it was losing huge amounts of money. She decided to force it to become efficient by closing all loss-making plants. One by one she closed big steelworks all over the country, throwing thousands of people out of work. These were big, well-known factories. She closed twelve, and the next on the list was the Llanwern Steelworks.
There are many people who have still not forgiven her for these actions. For them she was confirming in the most painful way their view that people like her were not interested in working people, but only in making money for themselves. They opposed her by every possible means.
The trade union leaders at Llanwern, while they could never agree politically with Mrs Thatcher, made a different choice – faced with the loss of their livelihoods, they would focus on trying to keep their steelworks open, and they would do it by building trust. They held meetings with some of their customers to find out why they were no longer buying steel from Llanwern. They agreed radical plans with their own management to restructure how the steelworks worked, and they took these plans to the Minister for Industry of a Conservative government. "Will you keep our steelworks open if we work with our management to implement these plans?" they asked him.
This was like negotiating with your enemy. So deep were the social divisions in that region that one of them told me, "Normally, we would not go into the same room as someone from the Conservative Party, let alone talk to them". Many did not understand what they were doing. But when you are trying to build trust you talk to unexpected people.
The Minister was surprised and impressed enough to agree to what was called a 'stay of execution' for the Llanwern Steelworks. The restructuring plan was carried out, and for a while Llanwern unexpectedly became the most efficient steelworks in Europe. It is still working today, and the town that depends on it is still prospering. In fact after this no more steelworks were closed by that government. Starting at Llanwern, they had found a different solution – unlike the coal mining industry which chose the road of confrontation and now hardly exists in Britain.
Building trust really does make a difference.
In 1950, the year I was born, all of Europe was trying to recover from WWII. France and Germany had fought each other three times in one lifetime. Their history and their relations were defined by hatred and mistrust.
Against this background, Robert Schuman, Foreign Minister of France sent Konrad Adenauer, the Chancellor of Germany, the draft of a secret plan to merge the heavy industries of both countries and make them mutually dependent so that they could never go to war again. Adenauer agreed to it in about two hours and suggested no changes. It was of course the first big step towards what we now call the European Union. There must have been an extraordinary level of trust between those two men.
Another example comes to mind. At a place called Caux in Switzerland there is an amazing conference centre. If you ever get the chance, do go there. I was privileged to work there with one of the most trusted and successful leaders of the construction industry in Switzerland. Why was he trusted? It was not because of anything he said. It was something he did. He went to the tax authorities and paid them a very large sum of money in taxes that he owed but had successfully hidden from them. After that, why would they not trust him? And he used to say it saved him a fortune in accountant's fees, because he only needed one set of accounts for his business.
But how do we build trust, at whatever level we are working?
Simply trusting people who are not trustworthy is no solution.
I want to suggest three requirements for building it. There may well be others, and we might want to discuss them during these days:- 1. Be consistent.
When I was managing people working on the farm at home, I discovered I could not expect them to trust me if I made demands on them that I ignored myself. For example, if I did not communicate to them about the decisions I was making which affected them, I could not expect them to pass on to me important information about their work. If I was unpredictable, our cooperation suffered. They couldn't trust me. 2. Be transparent.
An honest conflict of interest can usually be resolved by compromise, but a hidden agenda always creates mistrust. This even works in family life! My relationship with my father was transformed after I told him about the double life I was starting to lead – one kind of person in public, and a different person when no-one was looking. It was a horribly difficult thing to talk about, but it was worth it. 3. Address our own faults first.
There is a song which says, "When I point my finger at my neighbour, there are three more pointing back at me". (Don't worry, I won't try to sing it here.) What it means is that every time I try to point to the faults and failures of someone else, what everyone else sees are my own faults. If I want to start a process of change or of trust-building, the best place to start is with change in myself.
So, be consistent, be transparent, address our own faults first. These are the ideas that I wanted to put before you, for thought, for discussion, and in the hope that they make a real contribution to the cause of participatory budgeting.
I look forward to meeting many of you in the hours ahead.