A Tale of Two Cities

Or to be more accurate two countries.

I have just finished a 5 day trip to Shanghai and have landed in the UK. First impressions of the UK is the place is slowly decaying into insignificance, visiting Shanghai after a 3 year break and the progress is very noticeable.

Shanghai is a much larger city than greater London – its traffic is bad, but works. The place is clean, very little litter, major attempts to grow greenery and virtually everything looked well maintained. Watching as an outsider, the problems Shanghai faces are created by its success and growth. What was most noticeable was the work to overcome these issues and problems. Problems were defined and resources committed to developing solutions. There was a noticeable pride in the city and in China’s re-emergence as a world power.

Flying from Shanghai, I arrived in the UK on a wet afternoon – the M25 was a dysfunctional parking lot. The BT internet service did not work at the family home – plenty of signal strength but despite having a paid BT account no access for 4 hours despite repeated attempts to connect! My Australian Telstra 4G modem does not work – no signal. The UK is one of the richest and most densely populated countries in Europe and basic services readily available in most developing countries are dysfunctional. More worryingly the press and political system seem to accept second rate as normal.

The genuine patriotic reverence for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations showcased the ‘best of British’ – however, what commentators eulogising over putting the Great back into ‘Great Britain’ forgot was that when Britain was ‘great’ it had world-leading capabilities and these were founded on world-leading communication infrastructure such as canals and railways.

The key infrastructure of the 21st Century is broadband communication – Australia is building its national broad band network (although some luddites think this is unnecessary), China is investing heavily to keep up with demand (as is Singapore, Malaysia and a host of other countries); so why has the UK become so uninterested in providing an equivalent service that works to help business and grow the economy?

My feeling is UK business seems more interested in cutting costs than making money –corporate anorexia (you need to invest wisely in capability, service delivery and people to make money). The government is frightened to lead and the press seem more interested in any salacious scandal than pushing for effective service.

Great empires take a long time to decay – strong civil systems are remarkably resilient, however, the parallels between the decay of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century and the collective European Empires in the 20th century is interesting to say the least. A loss of technical dominance as countries outside of the ‘empire’ learned to emulate the technology of the Romans, major wars between competing factions followed by the emergence of new dominant cultures that eventually destroyed the empire and usurped its power and property. The Roman system was unable to reinvigorate itself to compete effectively in the changed world of the 4th century. Will history repeat itself in the 21st century with commerce replacing legions in the ‘battle’? I hope not but the signs are worrying.

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