Rohan Silva: Look to Lisbon for the best ideas, and then let’s steal them

Rohan Silva
Rohan Silva: 'It has never been more vital that our city becomes more open, fair and competitive': Lucy Young

I run a small business, so I’m what International Trade Secretary Liam Fox would call a lazy good-for-nothing. (Maybe my schoolteachers were right about me.) You see,

Fox recently accused British entrepreneurs of being too slack to take their companies overseas — which is pretty unfair given how difficult it is to grow a business internationally.

I’ve got the battle scars myself — my company, Second Home, launched in Lisbon a year ago this week, and it has been one hell of an adventure.

But expanding to the Portuguese capital wasn’t only a tough entrepreneurial learning curve, it has also been a fascinating chance to see how Lisbon’s leaders are trying to make the city fairer and more open.

One of the daft things about British politics is that our social and economic problems are usually treated as if they’re unique; it’s depressingly rare for policymakers to look overseas and learn from other countries.

In the wake of the EU referendum we need to do better. And when it comes to attracting global talent, or tackling social challenges in new ways, Lisbon is getting a lot of things right, so it’s worth finding out why.

Take the city’s bold experiment with what policy geeks call “participatory budgets”. Every year Lisbon residents get to decide how one per cent of the city’s budget gets spent, which adds up to millions of euros. It has been a huge success, with 500,000 people voting on projects annually — a fantastic way to get involved in civic life, and bring about real change.

Or look at how Lisbon is protecting its music venues and nightlife, because politicians there understand how vital this is for attracting skilled workers. I was at an event with the mayor of Lisbon recently and he apologised for having to leave early (it was 1am) saying he needed to open a new nightclub on the other side of town. With 40 per cent of London’s music venues closing in recent years, we need that kind of thinking here.

Finally, at a time when British leaders are closing the door to international workers and new technologies, check out how Portuguese politicians are coming out firmly on the side of openness. In Lisbon, ride-sharing apps such as Uber are being legalised rather than banned, while new immigration visas make it easy for global workers to create jobs and bring new investment to the city. If only Britain was heading in the same direction.

London is one of the greatest cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from other places.

With Brexit looming, it has never been more vital that our city becomes more open, fair and competitive. Cribbing a few good ideas from Lisbon isn’t a bad place to start.