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Isn’t it time that Birmingham became a full-fledged Metropolis?

Isn’t it time that Birmingham became a full-fledged Metropolis?

🕔02.Jan 2013

The problem with being the largest local authority in the country, and indeed in Europe, is that there isn’t really anywhere else to go. You can’t very well keep on getting bigger, expanding your boundaries. Apart from anything else, the surrounding areas become increasingly resistant to your attempts to absorb them.

Just witness the aversion of the Black Country even to sharing a Local Strategic Partnership with Birmingham, let alone to coming under the city’s auspices. And while local resistance didn’t save poor old Sutton Coldfield Borough Council, you get the feeling that that was probably the last expansionist step that Birmingham could reasonably take. Certainly there have been no more since 1974.

Yet for all that Birmingham is not the largest city in England. That honour, of course, belongs to the capital – a status that London achieved, not by ever-expanding the bounds of its central corporation (something that that Corporation has always resisted), but by allowing itself to exist primarily as a federation of independent boroughs.

Which provides us, I believe, with the clue as to how Birmingham might move from its present state, of essentially oversize district council, to a new and exciting stage of city development. For why should Birmingham not become, like London, a federation of independent boroughs under one Greater Metropolitan Authority?

Many advantages would, I suggest, accrue from such a move. Not only would Birmingham’s capacity for further expansion be substantially increased, paving the way for it to become a truly world-beating city, but that expansion would also be made more palatable to its more autonomy-minded neighbours, by extending to them a measure of ongoing independence. Furthermore, such a scheme brings with it all the benefits of smaller units of government – benefits, I note, which London has always maintained for its own localities, yet which would be no less advantageous to Birmingham.

 

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For if we’re honest, Birmingham local government would have much to gain from operating on a smaller scale than it does at present. There are, I am sure, advantages in being large – economies of scale and all that – but there are also disadvantages, and corresponding strengths of being leaner and more tightly-muscled. Such as improvements in organisational responsiveness, in democratic accessibility, and in sense of community.

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