Commonwealth opportunities in a post-Brexit world, from trade to impact

*Update*  Soon after posting this, I signed up as a Founding Fellow and Mentor with the Commonwealth Communicators Organisation, meaning a shiny new title to add to LinkedIn there will be more info to come on Commonwealth opportunities…

Recent days have propelled more than one formerly glorious institution with members around the world back into the spotlight. First Liverpool FC, then the Commonwealth of Nations through the Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM, sounding like an icky cough) and the Commonwealth Games.

I remember the Commonwealth having quasi-iconic status in my youth as a remnant of the British Empire, being quintessentially “British” in a global way like Hong Kong and Concorde (technically also French, but you know what I mean).

Yet unlike Concorde and British Hong Kong, it’s still there. A bit like The Simpsons, it continues to tick rather than hum along in the background after so many years, while the global conversation has moved on, to the EU, ASEAN and Africa, eyed by China and Macron. This in itself is pretty remarkable. The USSR imploded and the EEC is no longer a thing as such, yet the Commonwealth is still with us.

And it’s still relevant. They say that size doesn’t matter, but it surely plays its part. Numbering 2.4 billion people, the Commonwealth is not only bigger than Facebook – its citizens get to keep their data.

It also has breadth, wrapping itself around a fifth of the Earth’s territory. Comprising 53 member states (53 is apt, being the year The Queen was coronated and Everest was scaled for the first time), the Commonwealth includes large influential countries like Canada, Australia and Pakistan, and small countries like Tuvalu – a South Pacific island state, rather than a tickly organ in the back of the throat.

It’s this global reach that is enabling countries from across the Commonwealth to eliminate avoidable single use plastic in a bid to clean up the world’s oceans, from plastic bags to avoidable plastic waste – an admirable initiative that came out of the CHOGM (excuse me). A similar initiative to help protect the world’s rainforests, the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, was launched in 2015, with 40 countries now taking part.

As Britain pulls out of Europe, there will (probably) be more opportunities with Commonwealth nations, including fast-moving countries like India, Malaysia and Singapore, from trade deals to free movement.

But more than anything, there are shared interests between Commonwealth nations, which simply make working, living and doing business that little bit easier – the “softer” things in life.

As the Commonwealth was mostly the British Empire, member states share interests that are British in origin, like use of English, driving on the left, sports like rugby and cricket, and picking a fight after last orders the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy (though it’s fair to say that “democracy” is loosely interpreted in at least one or two nations). In fact, Malaysia remains the most comfortable country I’ve lived and worked in, and I believe that familiar factors like the English language had much to do with it.

But these are still early days in the Brexit journey, and from my point of view there are institutional and brand challenges for the Commonwealth to overcome. The organisation still feels a bit…staid, and its not entirely clear what its purpose is.

Perhaps oceans, forests and young people point the way forward – an opportunity to use our links to positively impact lives and the world around us.

London and Manchester fall down cost of living rankings because of Brexit

Thames and London Eye

Eyeing a move to Britain? London has fallen 18 places down the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living index. The 2017 report shows the UK capital at its lowest position in two decades, to now rank 24th – and Brexit is seen as the cause.

It’s a seismic and symbolic difference; 20 years ago the nation was entering a new era through Blair and Britpop (make of that what you will). Manchester showed an even bigger fall in its cost of living –  the biggest registered in the report – of 25 places to 51st. This may or may not influence foreign players mulling over a Premier League move (the city’s rain might be more a decisive factor).

Singapore meanwhile remains the most expensive city of the 133 measured worldwide by the EIU survey. This makes it marginally more expensive than regional rival Hong Kong and a whopping 20% pricier than New York.

The little red dot and Hong Kong are joined by other Asian cities in the top 10, with Tokyo and Osaka moving up because of the yen, and Seoul continuing to climb the rankings. Incredibly, the Korean metropolis was ranked 50th for Cost of Living just seven years ago:

However, the report also showed that not all Asian cities suffered the same fate. Five cities in China – Beijing, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Dalian – were among the leading ten cities with the biggest fall in ranking over the past 12 months.

As for the opposite end of the scale, Kazakhstan’s Almaty is the cheapest city in the world. The bottom 10 in cost of living includes four cities in India: Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi.

While several of these inexpensive locations are also popular expat destinations, for example Mumbai, the EIU glumly notes that “cheaper cities tend also to be less liveable”.  Statistically speaking, that may well be true, but not all situations are equal. Mumbai is known for its inequality gap – it’s very liveable for some.

Asia, Switzerland top Cost of Living survey

Singapore skyline

Residents of tiny Singapore might not be surprised to learn that their city-state home has been named the world’s most expensive city by the EIU’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey (registration required, but the report based on the survey is free to download).

The 13 page report shows that Asian metropolises and European cities dominate, with eternal rivals Singapore and Hong Kong ahead of the pack in cost of living terms:

  1. Singapore
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Zurich
  4. Geneva
  5. Paris
  6. London
  7. New York
  8. Copenhagen
  9. Seoul
  10. Los Angeles

According to the EIU, the survey is run twice yearly, comparing more than 400 individual prices across 160 products and services, including food, drink, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, home rents, transport, utility bills, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs. Its purpose is to help HR and finance managers to put together cost-of-living allowances and compensation packages for expats.

Despite the high cost of living, Singapore is the best city for Millennials employment, says The Guardian. The same article named Hong Kong as the best city for public transport and education/training prospects.