Excerpts from the speech at the Mayors’ Conference and Seminar
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
Today, we are meeting at this training seminar. As you know, a few months ago, I met with your colleagues, the regional governors, here at this very same venue.
Today’s seminar, like the earlier one, is not a one-off event. We are developing a regular system of events to raise the qualifications of state managers. People at every level of government, from federal to municipal, will receive training. If we want to be a country with an advanced economy and high living standards, we obviously need to have modern and effective management methods.
You represent local government in our country’s biggest cities. Between them, these cities are home to more than 45 million people, nearly a third of Russia’s population. Most of you are mayors or the heads of administrations in regional capitals.
You have big responsibilities, a lot of pressure and a huge amount of work. This is all your direct responsibility. I know what this is like from back when I was working in St Petersburg. There is nothing more important, responsible and complicated than direct contact with the public and direct responsibility for tackling the challenges that big cities and even municipalities face.
City residents have higher demands when it comes to living standards and urban development in general. City residents are the most active part of the population. They are quick to acquire new knowledge and master new technology, and even if they do not have the opportunity to use it themselves, they are quick to learn about it, know what it is and where and how it is used, and they expect their local authorities to make use of best practice.
People want progress, and the quality of city management and the principles on which we base our cities’ development must correspond in full measure to what the times demand and what our people want.
”We are developing a regular system of events to raise the qualifications of state managers.“
Our cities should aim for the future, and so their development strategies and urban development plans must take into account political, social, economic and environmental factors and the latest city planning trends. It is important at the same time to preserve the historical and architectural heritage, cultural code and unique identity of our towns. As I was discussing with your colleagues just before, this is not a problem or not much of a problem for Moscow, St Petersburg and a few other cities, where people always have something to be proud of. This is not the case everywhere, but it should be, and this is what we must aim for. People need to feel a sense of belonging to the place they live in and should feel proud of it. It depends a lot on us to develop the centres that will create people’s sense of identification with the place in which they live.
City people need to feel that life is getting better here and now. They need to be able to see this in concrete examples, in streets, parks and the other places where they spend time nearly every day and see what is going on there. They need to see that their cities are changing and becoming a more convenient and comfortable place for life, and so developing and shaping the city environment is a task of paramount importance.
Our big cities are filled with offices, shopping centres and industrial zones today. These are all necessary things of course and we all know that it cannot be otherwise. This means jobs and tax revenue for the budget. But this is not enough for normal everyday life. These might be necessary things, but normal life today requires more than this.
We also need what urban development experts call modern public spaces. Put simply, these are well-kept and designed embankments and squares, playgrounds and sportsgrounds, and places for families to relax. Teenagers and young people need to have spaces for their leisure. They need places where they can get together, play sport, and simply spend time together. These should be modern places, not squeezed out to the edges somewhere or pushed underground, but open, transparent and attractive, so that young people can come there and meet, talk, play sport, move, roller-skate or whatever else. This is very important.
It is equally important for senior citizens to feel at ease in our cities. Cities should be convenient for people of all ages, and for people with disabilities too. Every detail needs attention here. Everything is important, cleaning apartment building entrances, lighting for streets, cleaning yards, including clearing snow, and landscaping public places. It is not right when some mayors say, “What’s the point of clearing the snow when it will soon melt anyway?” Maybe it will indeed soon melt, but before it does, how many people will slip, fall and injure themselves, break a leg? What’s more, if a town always looks like no one bothers cleaning up there, it will inevitably affect people’s attitudes and will immediately have an impact on their opinion of the city authorities’ performance.
”People want progress, and the quality of city management and the principles on which we base our cities’ development must correspond in full measure to what the times demand and what our people want.“
These details also play a part in shaping the way people look at the world and creating an atmosphere of trust and calm, or as we used to say, a feeling of confidence in tomorrow. People sense when their city is alive and developing, becoming a more comfortable and attractive place for life, and that the local authorities’ work is based not on abstract plans but people’s concerns and concrete interests.
If people strive to live, work and start a family in the cities where they were born and raised, it means the quality of the municipal authorities and municipal governance meets their expectations. And your objective, colleagues, is to acquire the skills you need to ensure your work corresponds to these expectations.
Friends, creating the conditions for people to find personal fulfilment has fundamental significance. I have already mentioned offices and industrial zones; we cannot do without them. We must also create conditions for work, for people to create their own businesses. We must learn to build a comfortable business climate – I want to stress that this is a key challenge for authorities at any level, including the municipal level.
As you know, efforts are being made in this direction on a federal level, jointly with the business community. We are adopting amendments to our legislation and eliminating legal and administrative barriers. This is truly large-scale, high-priority work.
But entrepreneurs do not run their businesses in some sort of abstract environment; they run them in concrete locations and each municipality can find its own approaches to managing the truly broad powers they hold. These include issuing building permits, agreements on land transactions or space rentals, and licenses to engage in certain types of activities, including social entrepreneurship.
When people feel the authorities are communicating with them and creating favourable conditions, there will be returns – very significant ones.
I would like to note the following: we often hear complaints that there will not be enough funding for all of this. That is true: there is never enough money for everything. There are many problems. However, this is not just a question of having funding, but its rational use as well.
I think the time has come to summarise and organise the most effective municipal practices for creating favourable conditions for business and social initiatives. There are many such practices. And the people present here are developing those practices and creating them. There are also other municipal leaders who may not be present here today but who are also doing this. I am familiar with these practices; they are being used effectively across Russia. Let’s brainstorm together how we can summarise all this positive experience and make use of the best examples.
Let me stress that the development of entrepreneurship and influx of investors means new jobs, a growing services sector, more private funding for transport and utility infrastructure, municipal development and social projects. Naturally, it also means increased revenues for local budgets.
I realise that municipalities still do not have enough economic incentives to work actively on developing entrepreneurship. There are certain issues in the system of inter-budgetary relations that need to be resolved.
Let’s return to this topic again at the upcoming municipal conference in November and discuss the problem holistically, looking at both income sources and municipalities’ powers. There should certainly be a balance between the amount of authority and a city’s own resources.
Colleagues, we have a unique resource: human capital – socially active, engaged, creative individuals. It is the people themselves that can provide great momentum for developing cities.
”Today, interaction with ethnic communities and members of traditional religions is particularly important; they should become your allies in preventing ethnic conflicts.“
City residents must become your associates, working toward the same goal; they should feel involved and interested in the events taking place in the city. And here, our major metropolises should set a good example for all municipalities. It is imperative to use modern communications, allowing people to share their opinions and suggestions on improving their cities or towns.
I will say that at a federal level, we have been implementing the Russian Public Initiative for six months. And as you know, beginning on November 1 this year, both federal and municipal initiatives will be posted on a special Internet portal. If such an initiative originates from your city, it must be examined. That is required by law.
I urge you to make draft legislative acts and other municipal government documents available online and in other media, and to make use of such a collaborative selection approach to arrive at optimal solutions.
Naturally, access to the authorities must not be limited to electronic communications alone. You should actively use direct forms of communication: public hearings, gatherings and local referenda on the most pressing issues, from school construction to installing traffic signs, from creating public parks to organising weekend fairs.
Direct communication with people should become a standard part of your work. Naturally, I completely understand that as the mayor of a large city, particularly with over a million inhabitants, it is impossible for you to meet and talk with each individual, but in this case, you don’t need to. There are many other forms of communication; I don’t need to tell you about them, you already know them. You simply must not forget that they exist and use them.
At the same time, you should be in constant contact with community organisations, business associations and volunteer organisations. I am asking you to give them the most efficient support possible, to engage these organisations in implementing social, educational and charity projects.
Today, interaction with ethnic communities and members of traditional religions is particularly important; they should become your allies in preventing ethnic conflicts.
Overall, you must encourage all proactive members of the public to become engaged in working together and support various forms of civic participation.
I will stress once again that we want to ensure the formation of strong, reputable administrative teams on a local level. The municipal service should become a channel for social mobility for young, energetic, talented people who can then become involved in work at a regional and federal level. For our part, we will help municipal officials improve their skills; the Government has developed corresponding mechanisms.
Please note that our political system is becoming increasingly open, which means that there is more competition. And it is imperative to prove your right to represent your voters’ interests and your right to govern the city – you must prove it through positive, practical results.