Today another important report has been published on the role of cities in the English economy by the City Growth Commission. The report titled Connected Cities: The link to growth argues that investment in infrastructure in UK has historically been low compared to our competitor countries and argues that a focussed approach on investment in our ‘metros’ (effectively city regions) will lead to a rebalancing of growth as well as higher UK growth overall.
The report is well argued if not comprehensive and well worth reading. The question for me is how much influence has Greater Birmingham had on the report.
Well a number of hearings were held to gather evidence – in Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle amongst other places but none as far as I can see in Greater Birmingham.
Written evidence was sought and a wide array was submitted including from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, from Bristol, Nottingham, Leeds Milton Keynes, Newcastle and Sheffield Councils. The Mayor of London and London Councils also submitted evidence. There was no evidence submitted from Birmingham or other authorities in our metro area (unless these were from the 6 bodies who requested secrecy).
So Birmingham relied on evidence submitted by the core cities group and also answered a questionnaire.
Looking through the examples given there was not one positive one from Greater Birmingham (excluding HS2) but examples from elsewhere were mentioned positively like the £1bn Chinese investment in housing Greater Manchester. A small example of the lack of influence in this report was the use of research pointing to the fact that office space in Birmingham costs upto 40% more than in Manhattan. This is research that could be challenged but it is the fact that the quote used was
”Even in medium sized cities such as Birmingham…….‘ Now this quote, in bold and capitals relates directly to the research but the fact that the biggest city outside of London; namely Birmingham is quoted as being a medium sized city- without explanation is to me shocking. You may think it is only an oversight but I think there is a deeper malaise out there; Greater Birmingham is not playing well in national fora and national inquiries.
A campaign to argue for further resources for the City. This campaign is leading up to the general election and will make the case for cities. This initiative is linked nationally to a ThinkCities campaign backed by the Centre for Cities thinktank. This is great stuff but to my mind – we don’t just need a campaign in Greater Birmingham. We need a thinktank that can be the voice of reasoned argument for Greater Birmingham. This is a subject I am returning to as I blogged on this here. The Growth Commission report was supported by Manchester New Economy and you can see its influence. The focus is mainly on the North. If there are conferences to discuss cities; how often is there a speaker from Greater Birmingham – not often. How many publications have come out of Greater Birmingham arguing its case – and by that I mean not promotional documents but reasoned and well evidenced papers; I would argue again not many.
There is a real problem in this city region. Nationally the Guardian picked up recently a re-occurring theme – our poor image. I have lived in this city for 16 years and every year this comes up in one form or another. There are other problems such as unemployment; low numbers of high growth firms etc. It is my view that we do not get across nationally our strengths nor convincingly put forward the case that we know how to solve our problems. We are non players when we need to be key partners in this national thinking. So we need to start thinking and we need to set up an organisation that does that. What are your ideas for this?