Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dispute resolution briefing at the IBA in Dublin

This week, we’re joining with UKTIthe Law Society and the Bar Council to promote Unlocking Disputes and UK legal services at the International Bar Association’s annual conference in Dublin. We took the opportunity to hold a briefing on UK dispute resolution – kindly hosted by Citibank Europe at the Citi Innovation Lab. The event drew a standing-room-only crown of global legal talent. 
The briefing looked at the reasons behind why a successful legal system was an essential basis for a thriving financial services sector and how this tied in to the TheCityUK’s overseas agenda, including our agreements of with emerging financial centres.
Khawar Qureshi QC, Chairman of TheCityUK Legal Services and Dispute Resolution Group, skilfully moderated an hour-long presentation and question and answer session on the reasons why businesses choose London and English law. He drew on statistics that will be published later this year by TheCityUK in our updated Dispute Resolution report showing the sector’s strength.    
The whole range of dispute resolution options was covered during the hour, including arbitrationlitigation and mediation. The key role provided by forensic accounting services was also emphasised. Importantly, the discussion led by Mr Qureshi did not shy away from the more controversial issues concerning London, including the need to keep costs competitive and to provide bespoke services to international clients. He was supported by speakers from the floor who used their own experience to highlight points from his presentation and commentary, all showing the depth and breadth of expertise available from ‘Legal London’.
The audience included lawyers from Turkey, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Ukraine as well from the Middle East, Africa and the EU. They viewed the Unlocking Disputes video that features the new commercial court complex at the Rolls Building and the English judiciary – whose expertise and incorruptibility are essential to the success of the legal services sector.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Countdown to European Patent Court decision

The European Council is set to convene at 3pm in Brussels and its deliberations will go on until midday on Friday. The heads of state or government of the European Union attending will have copies of the annotated agenda, circulated last month, and an invitation letter issued yesterday. Nowhere on either document do the words ’patent’ or ‘court’ come up.  But we all know the issue will be on the table for discussions.

Agreeing a Unified Patent Litigation System (UPLS) for Europe would be a major step towards the long-standing European aim of creating a Single Market. However, getting a system with the right regulations and the right infrastructure is still a tall order.

TheCityUK, working with its members, last year lobbied the British government to bid to host the planned Central Division of the court. The government did so.

We also cooperated with the City of London Corporation, London & Partners and the specialist IP groups to put the case as to why having the Central Division in London would be in Europe’s interest, not just Britain’s. TheCityUK’s Legal Services and Dispute Resolution Group, which includes UKTI and the Ministry of Justice representatives, has also kept the planned Patent Court on its agenda at every meeting this year.

Today, TheCityUK’s views are with the British team going to the Council Meeting.

We have reminded the government of the seriousness of the issues. We have relayed the industry’s concerns about the proposals that have trickled out of Brussels. But there is strength in numbers. So members should not hold back from reminding the branches of government they deal with of the importance of the future of European Patents.

European Council meetings are strange things. Decisions are taken at odd hours and negotiations rarely go in straight lines. Where we will be on Saturday morning is anyone’s guess. Whatever the result, TheCityUK will be lobbying for the interests of the UK – that much is certain.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Public Private Partnerships - Supporting the Home Team

Why were Public Private Partnerships (PPP) introduced in Britain? A recent blog post in The Guardian covers some motivations - value for money, being able to build assets now that would not have been possible with budget limitations  - but it misses some of the most obvious.

The words ‘built on time’ and ‘on budget’ and ‘will be maintained for twenty five years’ are not ones associated with traditional public sector procurement. The innovations associated with PPP include competitive tendering, whole-life costing for projects and the incentive for the private sector to keep the infrastructure maintained in a good enough condition so as not to be penalised when the assets are finally handed over at the end of the project life. Even the National Audit Office confirmed* that the traditional procurement systems could benefit from  lessons learnt from our PFI programme.
The UK had a massive stock of dilapidated social infrastructure by the time we reached the 1990s. This was the product of a system, largely still in place today, giving politicians kudos for ‘ribbon cutting’ and no incentive to maintain the facilities they had built. When was the last time an MP turned out to give the hospital maintenance team a pat on the back? And would the media deem this a ‘story’ worth covering? Of course not.  
So one man’s PPP ‘overhang of debt’ is another man’s ‘long-term maintenance budget’. Crucially, there is no similar provision on the balance sheets for the public sector to pay for the maintenance of its own infrastructure projects. Indeed, in some cases the public sector does not actually know what assets it owns in the first place, let alone what condition they are in. PPP provided one way out of this problem, and this should not be forgotten.
Finally, the article laments, “following in the steps of football and cricket, PPP wouldn't be the first time the UK has pioneered something, only to see it perfected overseas”. On the contrary, it is UK practitioners – individuals and firms – who are in-demand abroad. We have the star players. With 20 years of PFI and PPP experience, mostly good but sometimes bad, the UK has unrivalled expertise across a wider range of public services. This is a great British asset and it has been used in every major emerging market in the world. So as the government exhorts the private sector for an export-led growth agenda, UK expertise in putting together PPPs is at a premium. Our members in TheCityUK are out there playing the game at the top level. It would help if we had less jeering from the stands.

*In April 2011 the National Audit Office concluded that: “lessons from the large body of experience of using PFI can be applied to improve other forms of procurement and help Government achieve its aim of securing annual infrastructure delivery cost savings of £2 billion to £3 billion.”.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dreadnoughts and the PFI Review

File:HMS Dreadnought 1906 H61017.jpg

The British Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland was led by Admiral John Jellicoe. As the commander of the fleet of dreadnoughts sent to battle in the North Sea in 1916, Winston Churchill observed that Jellicoe was 'the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon'.

Similarly, the long course of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in the UK will be set by the outcome the HM Treasury review – of which the deadline for evidence was last week.

The review is timely and necessary. Timely, because it makes sense for the UK to review its infrastructure procurement methods, to assess the public services that the private sector can be harnessed to deliver, and valuable to decide what has worked and what needs to change in the future. Necessary, because the public policy debate concerning PFI had reached levels of misunderstanding and acrimony that were starting to damage the UK sector abroad, as well as at home.

TheCityUK’s contribution to the review is a response document prepared after consulting our members, so thank you to everyone who has taken part. In the paper, we propose that the government cuts down the length, cost and complexity of the procurement process in the UK. We also discuss the role of a centralised agency staffed by procurement professionals to help concentrate and retain public sector procurement expertise. There will be examples from abroad – often built on the UK’s own experience and then revised to take into account of local needs.

I am sure many of you saw The Economist commenting how successful UK export firms were able to, “benefit from long experience of public-private partnerships, which were pioneered in Britain (and often have a poor reputation there) but have spread to other countries”. One of the most important determinants of success for PFI or its successor model in the UK will be how far we can foster a stable, supportive political environment. So reputation matters. The results of the review must promote confidence amongst practitioners, investors, consumers and the wider public.

The review, if completed correctly, will enable the UK to reap the twin rewards of inward investment and export opportunity.  If not, the UK could lose out in the global competition for funds and see the stifling of a once successful, global growth-oriented sector.

While Jellicoe thundered during his battle, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”, he was still successful. Indeed, his opponents in the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet returned to their home ports for the rest of the war, making Jutland a strategic victory.

The PFI review submissions have now reached government. The direction and course will then be set by HM Treasury and those who sail in her. Full steam ahead.

Follow this link to read our response to the PFI Review in full.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year - No Blogging Yet

My blogging is on an extended break. 

This is after some 690 posts and an eventful few years as Cambridge's Tory parliamentary spokesman, local party deputy chairman and a plain community activist.

There was a lot to write about which had a good local interest and was not merely reproducing pompous thoughts culled from the notes provided by Conservative Central Office.  However, sometimes I was guilty of that too.

The most read stories were:

Sainsbury's is Tesco, Discuss... - Sunday, May 22, 2011
Tories Don't Elect Leader Using AV - Monday, April 25, 2011
Exams Rather than Coursework - Monday, December 7, 2009
A Twitter Feud - Thursday, November 11, 2010
‘Political’ Cambridge is not Eton with added colleges; it is Islington with medieval trappings. - Sunday, May 8, 2011