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Birmingham grabs itself some positive publicity, shocker

Birmingham grabs itself some positive publicity, shocker

🕔30.May 2013

Sir Albert Bore 003I was leafing through the Daily Telegraph the other day when, good heavens, a letter from the leader of Birmingham City Council leapt from the page.

Not just any old letter. This was the lead letter. At the top of the page.  It was the most important letter of the day, in the view of the editor.

The headline – HS2 will help to unlock growth in the eight largest cities outside of London – summed up perfectly the economic case for high speed rail, even if it probably had Tory MPs representing shire constituencies on the planned route spluttering into their kedgeree in anger.

Sir Albert Bore had succeeded where, in recent years, his predecessors all too often failed by engineering some positive, and free, publicity for Birmingham. You don’t necessarily have to spend pots of money on PR gurus to get some good PR.

The success can be viewed as even greater when you consider that the Conservative-supporting Telegraph is pretty much enemy territory for Labour council leaders, particularly those supporting HS2.

I am willing to be proved wrong, but I cannot recall a Birmingham council leader grabbing the national news agenda via the letters page of a distinguished newspaper, certainly not in the past 13 years.

The leader and chief executive of Manchester Council quite often pop up in the letters columns, as do other local government luminaries from time to time, but Birmingham has always been dilatory in this respect, being a past-master at hiding its light under a bushel.

Sir Albert was also writing in his capacity as a member of the cabinet of Core Cities, the eight largest city economies outside of London. He holds the transport portfolio, which is quite a coup and something that, inevitably, Birmingham has tended until now to keep to itself. We wouldn’t want the rest of the country to think that Birmingham was leading the way on something, would we?

There is of course quite a lot riding on HS2 as far as the Birmingham economy is concerned.

It is envisaged that the proposed HS2 terminus in Curzon Street will trigger substantial growth and jobs for Eastside and Digbeth, boosted by enterprise zone tax breaks. A substantial number of the 40,000 jobs and £2 billion uplift to the Birmingham economy predicted to be created by the enterprise zone will depend on HS2 actually happening.

As Sir Albert relates in his letter, he and the Core Cities cabinet members met the prime minister earlier in the year to discuss how Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield could create more jobs and growth for Britain, particularly on the back of high speed rail.

If the economies of Birmingham and the other Core Cities performed at the national average, another £1.3 billion would be put into the economy each year. The unbalanced nature of the UK economy, with a top-heavy London and under-performing regions, is now a topic of conversation at Government level. There has never been a better opportunity for cities like Birmingham to make the case for devolved powers and budgets from Whtehall.

Even newspapers such as the Torygraph are coming around to the fact that HS2 is about much more than fast trains. It is a project that will increase capacity on existing rail lines and help to rebalance the UK economy by creating growth and jobs in the West and East Midlands, the North-west and North-east of England.

The newspaper’s editorial line has softened in recent months to a far more nuanced appreciation of HS2, even if Telegraph hard core readers remain adamantly opposed to the cost of high speed rail.

But, as Sir Albert notes, it’s not as if this country already spends a lot on major transport projects. Britain ranks 34th in the world for its infrastructure, according to Core Cities research, and only spends 1.5 per cent of GDP on infrastructure. This can be compared with six per cent in Japan and three per cent in France.

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