Regional governors observe British decentralisation

A delegation of regional representatives from the Czech Republic were in Britain last week to observe the how decentralisation - as well devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - can bring economic benefit to deprived areas.

Eleven regional governors in Bohemia and Moravia spent five days Britain talking to local representatives and business people about attracting investment, encouraging tourism and developing effective partnerships between the public sector and private enterprise.

With the process of decentralization in the Czech Republic still in its infancy, Petr Zimmerman, Plzen's Regional Governor, he told Radio Prague's Peter Smith that the trip to Britain was very worthwhile.

"This was my first trip to Great Britain - what was most impressive for me? Something concerning Scottish Parliament and Scottish government reminds me of something from the Czech Republic. Maybe the regeneration of some quarters in Manchester were very impressive to me."

You say that you were impressed with the Scottish Parliament, but can you draw a parallel between devolution in Britain and decentralization in the Czech Republic?

"The process is very similar in both countries. Many things, concerning schools, and regional and local development, concerning the participation of people in common matters and in the decision process is very similar in the Czech Republic and Great Britain."

You drew parallels as well with Manchester and Edinburgh and what they have done to promote tourism. You being in Plzen, and having Prague very close, did you receive any examples of how you can attract people to the provinces.

"That's really the problem - Prague is only 80 km away and is on the highway. Many people come for only one day and they go back for the night to Prague. But I think there are many things, like the synagogue - it's the second biggest synagogue in Europe. The brewery in Plzen - Plzner Urqell is very popular and very famous, but the promotion is not. I think that if Plzner Urqell were somewhere in Scotland or Great Britain then the promotion would be done better."

Now if we talk about competition between regions, because that's what decentralization does lead to. What does Plzen have to offer, compared to say the Prague region, if you were a foreign businessman coming to invest?

"I am not afraid about Plzen at all - Plzen is a traditional industrial city, a university city, near to the German border with highly qualified people. You can see it in Borska Pole - the most developed industrial zone in the Czech Republic."

The European Unions has many funds and sources available for regions - so could we say that, in short, membership of the EU is more important to Plzen and to other regions than to Prague?

"Yes of course - Prague is now one 190 percent of the average of GDP per capita - the Plzen region is now second or third in the Czech Republic."

During your time in Britain, you spoke to a lot of people about the decentralization process - did you receive any particular positive advice that you hope to act upon?

"I could see that Britain does something in regional development, in attracting investors, and so on, and it's what I really did appreciate on this visit."