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Reshuffling Birmingham

Reshuffling Birmingham

🕔05.Sep 2012

As Sir Albert and “Team Birmingham” walk into their much trailed meeting with the PM today, they will already know what they want and can expect to achieve from the meeting. Much like a G8 or Euro summit, most of the work will have been done behind the scenes in advance. The communique – or whatever piece of paper the meeting produces – will be pretty much already in place. Both parties will be able to point to positives from the session and where they are continuing to push the other side.

We already know from the Council Leader’s PR that he wants relief from all the cuts in grant funding heading Birmingham’s way. He is expecting to have to find another £60M on top of the £300M already being applied to the budget. The Council House continues to echo to the sound of the Barnet Graph of Doom, a vision of the future where a local authority will only be able to muster a few quid to pay for adult social services and children’s services.

By the time of the meeting, new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin will have already been at his desk with the aviation capacity review and HS2 at the top of his in tray, not to mention the West Coast train line franchise decision. Doubtless, road, rail and air will be on the agenda. Housing, alongside planning, may provide a subject where both parties agree they want to see less dither. The PM will no doubt be interested in Birmingham’s progress in areas like education and social services where the city’s record is patchy to say the least.

However, the AB/DC meeting will only be successful if both make advances in the only policy area that really matters to them both: jobs and growth. Sure, AB will want less cuts and more freedom. DC will want to see evidence of strong leadership from the political boss of a city that rejected an elected mayor. So, beyond the advance PR what could Bore and his cross party and business delegation bring up under AOB?

First, Bore should offer up before asking. Birmingham needs to show it can work hand in hand with the Government’s education policy – a policy that in many ways Labour’s Blair and Adonis were largely responsible for. Whitby’s Council were half hearted supporters of the Academy programme and were less than frank about the state of many schools.

From that start, Team Birmingham should seek to position the city as the incubator and national trial centre for innovative education and skills policy. Ask Dave for Gove and Laws to support the development of the Birmingham Baccalaureate as part of the review of GCSE and secondary qualifications.

Next, secure more support for the city’s initiatives on work experience and closer business engagement in tackling worklessness. Given Greater Birmingham’s crucial place in the UK’s economic recovery and its record of innovation in seeking to tackle the skills crisis, the city needs to be more formally recognised and vocally supported as a centre of excellence for skills policies.

Then money. With the Enterprise Zone and the City Deal, there is some progress in providing more freedom for the city to retain and utilise local tax and rate receipts. Doubtless, the group will want to go further along this road, as it will with taking strategic control of current central government assets and future housing stock in the area. Birmingham’s Leader may seek the scope to develop more enterprise zone type areas beyond Paradise Circus, such as the Science Park given its digital ambitions.

Once the meeting has covered national and international transport infrastructure, Bore et al will want to cover urban mobility. I am sure they will want to return to the City Deal negotiations that sought to restructure control of local/regional transport under GBSLEP.

In October, Sir Albert is hosting a summit to review the city’s cultural strategy. Today, he may want to make the case for a quick switch of more lottery funding to the arts after the Olympic party has left town. He may also want to ask the Government to work with Arts Council England, under Sir Peter Bazalgette, to develop ways to achieve more leverage from local and national grants and accept philanthropy is not a silver bullet for arts sustainability.

Finally, Birmingham needs to be more successful with its localisation policy than HM Government was with Localism and other constitutional reforms. So, Bore may want support for rolling down powers to the Districts and making better sense of how the Council, LEP, PCC, Centro and health services (to name a few) can be better co-ordinated even without an elected mayor.

From treasury to transport; skills to culture Birmingham needs not just the next City Deal but a New Deal. A whole new (and more grown up) approach to the way central and local government work together and real freedom for a strong leadership team – including the private sector – to address Birmingham’s big issues and opportunities.

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