At the same time as having a very successful business career in some of the biggest companies in Denmark, Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard has been involved in local politics since 2005, when she was elected as a substitute for Venstre.
Skovgaard held her first real post from 2008, when she was a member of the administration for children and youth. Since 2014 she has been involved in the area of employment and integration, and has been Venstre’s spokesperson. Here, she discusses some of the issues that are important to her.
What makes a good local politician?
A good local politician is one that knows their local area and takes an active part in its everyday life. Secondly, it’s important to keep an open mind about which things could be improved and have the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom.
You have had a very successful business career. Has this has been an advantage in politics?
Being in the private sector has been a huge advantage. It trains you to familiarise yourself with a new topic or area and relatively quickly understand it. You also gain awareness that for an agreement to last or be successful, you need to have all the stakeholders on board.
Which areas politically are closest to your heart?
I think the overall area of social mobility – or lack it in Copenhagen. Sixteen districts have been identified as troubled or of concern. That’s the main area we need to focus on in order to brand ourselves as a successful city, because we have so many citizens not being part of the Copenhagen that the rest of us love and take a pride in. These are people who live in ghetto areas, people who are not an active part of our labour market, people who sometimes don’t share our values.
What are your specific policies in these areas?
We need to revamp our labour market policy. There are far too many projects that don’t lead to education or jobs. We just keep people passively for years and years. We need a much more realistic approach and a much more end-focused one, where we don’t just count the number of people in public projects this month, but rather concentrate on how many of them did we get into education or into a job?
Secondly, revamping our schools. We have schools in these troubled areas where up to half the children leave the ninth class without the ability to take further education because they don’t have the required skills in reading, writing, arithmetic and so on. We have to look at ways of helping these schools. I’m very inspired by the failing schools initiative in London where, with government support, a really radical approach was adopted to tackle these issues in under-performing inner city schools. They included methods such as working with very short time horizons.
Thirdly, I’d like to look at our social housing model. I’d like to see us experiment a bit and perhaps allow people in some of these ghetto areas to buy their own apartments on a co-operative basis. Some of them may not have any ready cash, but a construction could be set up whereby they could put their pension savings in as payment. That way, it would give them a sense of ownership and perhaps they would then take more responsibility for their property. It would also ultimately give them a way out of the ghetto area because they would be able to benefit from the general increase in property prices.
A lot of expats and non-Danish speakers can vote, but some feel that perhaps it’s not worthwhile using their vote. What do you say to that, and what could you do for this group if you were elected?
It’s very important that this group does vote. It matters which parties and politicians are represented at the Town Hall in terms of preserving and sustaining Copenhagen as an open and international city. If we want to make it attractive for international citizens to come here and then to stay, we ought to have kindergartens where they speak and understand English. We have international schools, we have the European school but maybe we need one of our public schools to have an international profile with a curriculum in English.
Are you committed to continuing the current trend towards a ‘greener’ Copenhagen?
Yes, definitely. I’m completely committed to the initiative of Copenhagen as a green city but want to take an approach that uses positive incentives and new technology rather than bans.
Do you have any plans to strengthen public transport – and maybe even introduce lower fares?
I’d very much like to improve public transport. Over the next four years I’d like to make an agreement regarding future metro lines – a second city ring. We also need to be certain that when the present city ring opens in 2019, the bus routes are properly co-ordinated with it. As for fares, I personally find it hard to understand that in the public transportation company Movia, they have 300 people employed who are not bus drivers. Perhaps we could reduce some of this heavy admin, and even if this only results in a few kroner off the fares, it’s a step in the right direction.
What is the main difference between your policies and those of the ‘red’ bloc?
Firstly, a willingness to realise and admit that we have a lack of social mobility in the city and we do have severe integration problems and problems with criminality – and the courage to point to new and slightly more radical solutions.
Secondly, if Copenhagen is to remain a successful city we need to preserve and maintain jobs there. Experts tell us that modern people want to be able to work and play in the city; they want to commute quickly by bike and public transport. We also want areas where there is life every minute of the day – a constant flow of people. It is vital to keep jobs in the city and some of them need to be private sector ones, so we need to do more to service our business life.
Thirdly, we need to take good care of taxpayers’ money by ensuring that it is properly spent and that we put people ahead of the municipality. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are here to improve life and make things easier for our citizens. The weight of the system can sometimes be an overwhelming factor.