Issue 60 / London
The new year unfolds but the same problems exist for those wanting to start afresh: obstacles to immigration and barriers to business development, writes Tyler Brûlé.
There’s a very good chance that at some point over the Christmas break you stared out from your window and soaked up the scenery of the snowy valley (or glittering sea, twinkling skyline, rolling meadows) below and took stock of your various affairs. No doubt you quickly dispensed with all the unrealistic New Year’s resolutions and focused on the more important things. As you surveyed the inviting landscape you might have thought about how you want to live over the coming year(s) and what a new scenario might look like. Should you upgrade your current set-up and stay where you are or consider a move to that city you’ve always thought about calling home? Should you abandon the city and go rural? Should you trade in your somewhat secure gig at a decent-sized corporation in exchange for the freedom of running your own stall?
There’s also a very good chance, particularly if you’re more decisive in nature, that you’ve already started laying plans to up sticks and relocate to the other side of the world or sat down to write that resignation letter. As you pack your bags and conjure up images of your new life in Wellington or Florianópolis or Penang, you’ll soon find that despite many governments talking about wanting to attract top talent, build creative communities and stimulate business, the flow of human capital (along with all the hard cash and ideas) isn’t as liquid as it should be.
As the UK attempts to figure out what it should do for an encore post Olympics, it might find the task easier if it reversed some of the more absurd decisions governing its borders. As one government agency has pretty much lost track of thousands of asylum seekers, the country’s energy would be better spent overhauling its selection process and welcoming the brightest, the most energetic and hardest working. As our foreign editor argues on page 60, the UK (and most other nations) would stand to do better if they made immigration procedures more straightforward.
Many would also do well to scrap their points systems and develop a new method for screening would-be citizens. Rather than offering extra points just because someone boasts a master’s degree, more progressive immigration agencies would think in terms of core skills as opposed to academic qualifications. Why should a person with outstanding public-relations know-how be disqualified because they don’t possess an mba? As a PR is only as good as their contacts book and ability to charm their way around a room, academic qualifications don’t count for much.
Policies for hiring tradespeople are also all over the place. Rather than just welcoming low-skilled labour that’s unlikely to contribute to raising the quality bar there should be greater emphasis placed on attracting men and women who hail from countries that take pride in manual labour and push apprentice programmes. Indeed, if monocle were to write a manifesto for global migration we’d lower (and in many cases abolish) minimum investment requirements for people looking for a fresh start and focus resources on ensuring embassies and consulates had savvy people in charge of attracting rather than rejecting talent.
Those who do manage to reach their chosen shores might be disappointed to find that the foundations for setting up a business are also flawed. While some countries have done a good job of getting rid of administrative red tape and making the process of registering a business relatively painless, our editors have noticed that more could be done at a municipal level to help would-be entrepreneurs to get rolling.
For starters, urban planners could encourage developers and landowners to rethink city blocks and shop fronts. On a recent trip to Calgary we were impressed by the emphasis the city’s mayor is placing on density and keeping the downtown core alive but somewhat appalled by the lack of small shop and office space available for people who don’t have the capital or need for 500 sq m of elbow room.
This issue of scale and real estate that’s no longer fit for purpose isn’t just a problem in the New World: many European cities are also saddled with retail and office space that’s in urgent need of subdivision. By moving to smaller formats, more people can test the market by spending less on rent and more on quality environments for shoppers and staff alike. Too often new businesses never quite manage to reach their full potential because too much ends up being spent on an interior that’s too large; as a result the overall execution fails to hang together.
Just as immigration agencies overthink and hinder the global flow of innovative minds, their colleagues in business-development agencies have become too consumed with developing environments solely for tech start-ups while forgetting about the basics that any new business needs: good infrastructure; easy access; affordable rents; and access to hard-working, ambitious people.
Over the course of 2013 and beyond we’ll be paying considerable attention to both of these topics as we launch a new series of monocle discussions in our key markets around the world. You can hear more about these events and everything else on our editorial calendar by keeping an ear on Monocle 24 and visiting our much improved website. As ever, please send all queries, comments and requests to me at email@example.com or my trusty assistants: Tommy Seres (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Isabel Käser (email@example.com). Thank you and Happy New Year.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.