Recently in Local Government Category
The decision which the City Council is now prepared to make to dismiss from the city centre some of its oldest business inhabitants, by moving the Wholesale Markets out of their current site to somewhere outside the city centre, is a momentous, colossal mistake.
The actual report has yet to be published. I have not been made privy to it. The press have been briefed on the basics, however. I can only now comment on those.
The knock-on effects on the retail markets will be catastrophic, which is why the two have been linked, and should be linked, in the debate. The vitality of these markets, wholesale and retail, are part of the business and community lifeblood of this city, a beating heart; and they are in deepest danger.
Momentous, because it indicates to me a fundamental disconnection in policy between the council's leadership (of any recent political colour) and where this city needs to develop. We are going backwards to a world which has already inflicted great damage to this city.
The government's flagship Regional Growth Fund (RGF) was designed to boost growth and jobs in the English regions and help rebalance the economy away from public sector jobs, with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) claiming that the first two rounds of the RGF would deliver round 330,000 jobs.
But two years in, just £60 million of the £1.4 billion of funds available has actually reached the projects which won funding, with fewer than 6,000 jobs having been created or safeguarded so far, according to a new report (read here) by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The coalition government's £1.4 billion Regional growth Fund has been severely criticised in a damning report (read here) by the National Audit Office (NAO). The report states that the RGF has failed to achieve value for money, spending as much as £200,000 generating a single job. And of particular concern the NAO notes that the RGF could have created thousands more jobs if the government had applied tighter controls.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg had previously claimed the fund could generate up to half a million jobs. I'd still like to see the calculations behind his claim as that figure is wildly out-of-line with the NAO's estimates. While the RGF may create 328,000 jobs in total, these are of various durations and the NAO estimates that only 41,000 extra full-time equivalent jobs could be created over the next seven years as a result of the RGF, at an average cost of £33,000 per net additional job (which is "broadly similar" to past programmes with comparable objectives).
Unemployment declined by 35,000 in the three months to February to 2.65 million, the first fall since May 2011. While that's of course good news, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit is still rising, with the total number of people in receipt of jobseeker's allowance standing at 1.61 million in March.
Nevertheless, some analysts see the recent slight fall in unemployment as the first sign that the economy has returned to modest growth. Let's hope they are right.
Youth unemployment also declined slightly, by 9,000 in the three months to February, leaving 1.03 million 16 to 24 year-olds looking for work. The unemployment rate for this age group is still over one-in-five, the worst in 25 years, and what's especially concerning is that there was another increase in the number of young people who are long-term unemployed.
In fact, over the last year, the number of young people claiming jobseeker's allowance for 12 months or more has tripled.
Last Sunday I chaired a debate at the Town Hall in Birmingham on what an elected mayor might do for the city, which can be seen here.
Over a hundred people attended and the discussion ranged from what business wanted from a mayor, through jobs, transport and education, and to how a mayor could help the inner city and other deprived areas in sharing in the wealth that the city generates.
Much of the discussion through the two panels was about power: what extra powers would a mayor have as compared with the current set up?
The countdown to the mayor referendum could do with a few things to energise it: a couple more compelling candidates, confirmation on the proposed mayoral powers, and a massive poster draped over Town Hall bearing the wiggy fizzgog of Boris Johnson and the accompanying slogan 'Do YOU Want Another HIM?'.
However, what it really needs is a bit of passion. A bit of a rumble in our urban jungle. Some fiery politicking that enflames the public interest. That passion remained suppressed in yesterday's otherwise worthwhile mayoral debate at Birmingham University.