Monday, April 27, 2009

So what's the point of town twinning?

Today I saw the news that the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford is trying to break its twinning arrangement with the French town of Luxeuil-les-Bains because communications have long since ceased between the two. (BBC News: Town aims to disown French 'twin') This is in stark contrast to Wallingford's relations with its German twin, Bad Wurzach.

In the true spirit of local government international relations (surely a contradiction in term) it seems there is no mechanism for towns to break the twinning. I hope that anomaly gets rectified before a town finds its twin has become decidedly unacceptable.

But what exactly is the point of town twinning? How does it benefit the people of a town? There's some mention in the news of school exchange programmes but they're not especially noticeable. And what else is there? My home borough of Newham is apparently twinned with Kaiserslautern in Germany, but it hardly shouts about it beyond the occasional mention on the website (e.g. Mayor welcomes visitors from German twin town). How exactly has that brought benefit to the people?

Well I can think of some it has brought benefit to. Councillors who get to go on fraternal greetings trips. But councillor junkets are not a benefit to the wider community. The whole series of arrangements does not offer any obvious tangible benefits. If towns want to declare on their signs that they're twinned with some other town then let them, but at a time when the public finances are tight, and council tax is constantly rising, twinning junkets should be one of the first ports of call for councillors to cut waste to cut council tax.

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