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Home of Fiat inspires Simon’s mayoral bid for Brum

Home of Fiat inspires Simon’s mayoral bid for Brum

🕔18.May 2011

Birmingham’s only serious mayoral candidate so far, Sion Simon, has used an interview with a marketing writer to unveil what seem to be some of his key campaigning messages.

Talking to Tom Holmes of creativebrief, Simon rehearses some familiar observations of Brum punching beneath its weight, its natives’ self-deprecation etc etc.

What may be of more interest to the city’s growing band of mayor-watchers, however, is the revelation of where he gets his inspiration.

His enthusiasm for Turin, and its similarity to Birmingham as a former auto-city with considerable industrial and social challenges comes through, as well as his belief that the latter can learn some serious lessons from the former. He says:

I’ve been learning about Sergio Chiamparino, the mayor of Torino. The home of FIAT, Turin has a similar automotive and industrial heritage to Birmingham, and also found itself facing a lot of similar problems when Chiamparino came to office over a decade ago.

Two years before he did, though, his predecessor, Castellani, set up what they called the “Torino Internazionale”. It brought together the 120 major stakeholder institutions in a single organisation which spent two years drawing up a “piano strategico”.

Not only was the strategic plan thus the product of a discussion between all the partners rather than an edict from the centre, and therefore a better plan, it also came with automatic buy-in and a wide sense of ownership when it came to be implemented by Chiamparino.

Sure enough, Turin has had a renaissance while Birmingham has under-performed its potential.

Chamberlain wonders if Birmingham should stage its own ‘Brummie Internazionale’.

The streets are hardly thronged with mayoralty-obsessed citizens, and its business community is typically neutral on the issue, waiting to see how the issue plays out over time. Whenever the subject does arise, people seem obsessed with the question “who will it be?”

And the city’s current political leaders are not exactly queuing up to ensure the issue is on everybody’s lips, presenting the mayoral question as driven by Westminster obsessives and a hostile local media.

But a process to neutrally investigate what a mayor could and should do for Birmingham would be wholly positive. The argument shouldn’t revolve around who the mayor will be, but should concentrate on what they should do – and how they should do it.

The result of next year’s referendum should be decided by a well-informed electorate, not one bludgeoned into apathy by self-interested parties who like the status quo – or one mesmerised by celebrity candidates.

A result that is informed at least partially by an academically rigorous and non-partisan process will be the right one for Birmingham – irrespective of whether it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Read Creative Brief’s full interview with Sion Simon here.

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