Wednesday 26 May 2010

Quality of living

Everyone – republican or unionist – claims to share a desire to improve the quality of life for the whole of the society in which they live. Definitions of what comprises a high or low quality of life can vary, of course – hence the differences in the republican and unionist approaches – but it is useful to take note of assessments carried out by organisations without any local political interest.

Today, for example, Mercer, a global HR and financial consultancy published its Quality of Living index which covers 221 cities worldwide, including Ireland's two (real) cities, Belfast and Dublin.

The rankings are based on a point-scoring index, which sees first-placed Vienna score 108.6 and worst-placed Baghdad 14.7. Cities are ranked against New York as the base city, with an index score of 100.

Living conditions are analysed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:
  • Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc)
  • Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services, etc)
  • Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom, etc)
  • Health and sanitation (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc)
  • Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools, etc)
  • Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion, etc)
  • Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc)
  • Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc)
  • Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services, etc)
  • Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)
European cities dominate amongst the top 25 cities in the index, reflecting the fairly high levels of development and social provision that are part of the European model.

However, for Ireland's two cities the situation is mixed. Dublin ranks at number 26 worldwide – better than any city in the USA or the UK (New York is placed 49, London 39). But Belfast comes in at number 63better than Athens, but is that really the best point of comparison?

Ireland's cities should do better. Clearly it is hard to compete on criteria like climate, when Auckland, Perth and Sydney are in the race, but since Ireland has no record of natural disasters and ought to have excellent levels of social provision, medical and educational provision and recreation, there is room for improvement.

All politicians, from every tradition, should see the Quality of Living index as a challenge, and should focus their efforts on moving our cities up the rankings until Ireland achieves Top 10 status.

There is one small piece of good news for Belfast buried in the Mercer's press release – in the parallel Eco-City ranking (based on water availability, water potability, waste removal, sewage, air pollution and traffic congestion) it comes in at number 30 worldwide – ahead of Dublin which is at number 33. There is definitely work to be done here too, of course, and all of these issues are entirely the responsibility of locally elected politicians – the climate or natural factors do not play a part.

Wake up, Ireland's politicians, and take the decisions necessary to bring our cities up to the level of Switzerland, Scandinavia and the antipodes!


Anonymous said...

Ireland has 3 cities, Dublin, Belfast and Cork. The Cork Metropolitan area, including it's suburbs and commuter towns is about 350,000 people. The population of Cork city and county is circa 500,000.

Dazzler said...

and 3 small cities, limerick, galway and derry

Horseman said...


There is no universally accepted definition of a 'city'. In the US there are 'cities' that we would barely call villages!

I do not count Newry, Galway, Waterford, Derry ... even Cork as 'real' cities?. They are towns. A 'real' city, for me, is a large metropolis in which there is a wide variety of economic activity, social groups, diversity; where most human needs are catered for - in other words a place where most goods and services are available. That is patently not the case in towns like Galway, Derry, etc. Any town where you can be more-or-less guaranteed to bump into a friend or relative every time you walk through the centre is not a city! Cities are places of anonymity, of choice, of freedom from social constraints. They are hot-houses of creativity and innovation, they are places where provincials come to see things that are not available in the sticks.

To be honest, I hesitated even before calling Belfast a real city! Anyone who feels hurt by that should travel more.

hoboroad said...

An influential think tank has claimed David Cameron is risking an English “backlash” by letting Stormont and other devolved bodies defer spending cuts to next year.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has also calculated that Northern Ireland gets 26% more public spending per head of population than England.
In a report published today, the well-known organisation calls for a reform of UK funding arrangements to end regional disparities.
The new Prime Minister confirmed on a visit here last week that the Stormont Executive can delay its portion of £6bn UK spending cuts to 2011/12. The province's share of the £6bn has been worked out as £128m.
Regional public spending allocations are made according to a complicated system called the Barnett Formula.
According to the IPPR, Northern Ireland gets £6,120 in public spending per head of population compared to £4,827 in England, £5,506 in Wales and £6,016 in Scotland. Its calculation, which does not include social security spending, puts the province 26.7% ahead of the English level. The UK average was £4,997 per head of population.
The new IPPR report — Devolution in Practice 2010 — examines the devolved experience in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the implications of the new government at Westminster.
It hails devolution as a landmark reform, but says the arrangements will be tested given the tightening financial situation.
The think tank report points out that the new London Government lacks a strong mandate outside England. It also says devolved administrations cannot be protected from looming spending cuts, if English regions and taxpayers are to be treated fairly.
Guy Lodge, associate director of IPPR, said grant funding to the devolved authorities will have to be cut as part of the deficit reduction programme.
“Holding off cuts to the block grant until 2011/12 might help David Cameron to win friends in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but it risks a backlash from England, particularly those poorer areas which already look jealously at the funding those parts of the UK receive,” he commented.
The report's conclusions include a proposal for the Barnett Formula to be reformed. It says changes are needed to be fair to all parts of the UK and argues that the devolved administrations need to be given greater fiscal autonomy to raise their own revenue.
Stormont MInisters are expected to decide next month whether to defer some or all of the £128m funding cut to next year.