Economic organisation secretary lists challenges facing today's cities

Sustainable development of cities, digitally-competent employees and taxation of online companies are the key challenges that contemporary cities face, said Jose Angel Gurria, secretary of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Secretary Gurria on Thursday delivered an address about the influence of digital technologies on urban development, at the University of Economics in Katowice, southern Poland. The same city is hosting the UN climate summit, COP24.

Gurria warned that the tax base was shrinking due to the development of digital technologies as more and more companies accept payments for their goods and services online, including small firms.

For sustainable development, it is not only important to ensure better access to digital infrastructure, but to have a workforce that is competent in the digital domain. However, only half of the adults in OECD member states have such abilities, the secretary said.

The official pointed to such problems as inequality and ghettoisation that have been exacerbated by urban growth, with life expectancy being up to 20 years shorter in the poorest districts of the world's most developed cities, such as London or Baltimore, he said, pointing in this context to the recent Paris protests of those who feel excluded.

The unequal participation of women in the digital industry is yet another problem, according to Gurria, who observed that there is only one woman per four men in software companies.

Polish Deputy Entrepreneurship and Technology Minister Marcin Ociepa, who was also present at the event, told reporters that Poland is taking an active part in the digital transformation, and mentioned such new solutions as electronic sick leave and prescriptions, as well as programmes aimed at moving away from using cash to make payments.