Britain and the Czech Republic: getting it right

Charles Bridge

Tuesday saw the visit of Andrew Cahn, the Chief Executive of UK Trade and Investment to Prague. The visit comes amidst increasing economic co-operation between Britain and the Czech Republic. Dominik Jun met Mr Cahn whilst he was conducting a tour of the reconstruction of Charles Bridge – itself a project contracted out to a British firm. He began by asking Mr Cahn to explain the work of UK Trade and Investment and the reasons for his visit here.

“It is the British government department responsible for promoting British exports, British trade overseas and also attracting inward investment into the United Kingdom.”

And why are you here on Charles Bridge today? There seems to be a major building project underway here.

Charles Bridge
“Well, I’m in the Czech Republic to try to increase the amount of British trade and investment with the Czech Republic. We have quite a lot, around 4.2 billion pounds a year, but that is not enough and we should have more. I’ve come to Charles Bridge because this extraordinary prestige project is being carried out by a British company, Mott MacDonald. And I think that it is just wonderful that the Czechs should have entrusted to a globally renowned British company the key challenge of renovating and rehabilitating and restoring to its original grandeur Charles Bridge, which I think is the premier architectural icon in central Europe.”

And obviously it is quite a responsibility, isn’t it – because it is such a national landmark?

Charles Bridge
“It is a huge responsibility. I was struck by the engineer in charge saying to me that this is being done without regard to money and without regard to time. In other words, they’ll take as long as is necessary to get it right and do it perfectly. And that I think speaks very well of the Czech government and of the city of Prague that it is prepared to devote the resources and the time to doing it perfectly. But when you have something as special as Charles Bridge, the important thing is to restore it in exactly the right way: you go to the quarries where the original stone is from, you find out how the masons did the work in the 14th century and you do it in the same way. But of course, you also use modern techniques to provide protection, because we now have terrible floods. The 2002 floods were a real threat to this bridge. We have to protect against threats like that. And we now have modern pollution and all sorts of things they didn’t have in the 14th century. So, we have authenticity in materials and authenticity in workmanship, but also use modern technology to get it just right.”

And what other business opportunities are there? What are you looking at for the future between the Czech Republic and Britain?

“Well there are a surprising number of British companies here already. Tesco are a really large force in retail, Shell is a large force in oil and gas, Vodafone is very challenging in the telecommunications sector. But I see real opportunities in the advanced engineering sector. I think that the Czech Republic is really very strong in this sector and so are we. And the other area related to that is education. We have the best universities in Europe in Britain, and I would like to see more exchanges of students and researchers and more attempts to pull through our technical and technological expertise and our research institutes into business and particularly into Czech business.”