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As a British citizen - but one who is, essentially, from an immigrant family - the current xenophobic climate is, at the best, unsettling; at the worst, alarming. You only have to look at the furore caused by the Channel 4 programme, Benefits Street in last couple of months to see how rife such antagonism is. Poverty and immigration have come to be inextricably linked.
And it is this that the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage is taking advantage of - for nothing, in this country, is as divisive as the topic of people entering Britain and claiming 'our' benefits.
Farmers are paid nearly 40% of the entire European Union budget to help produce food and manage the land for environmental and societal benefit. This is clearly necessary as we need food and a good quality environment and landscape. More recently agricultural practices have come under the microscope in terms of the impacts that different land management options can have on the environment and biodiversity and the way that some cropping systems can actually increase flood problems in the winter through soil erosion; maize being a particular case in point. Recent flooding has also highlighted the cumulative problem of how tarmac and timber decking increase surface water run-off, adding to problems of flooding as our antiquated drainage systems struggle to cope. This got me thinking about how we might use the system of incentives for farmers to help build collective public flood management solutions that also deliver important environmental benefits. This forms part of a suite of other interventions required which include replanting upland catchments with trees; rewetting bogs and peatlands to lock up carbon and act as sponges to store water; and ensuring the necessary amount of green flood management infrastructure to support new development.
The flooding and its impacts will not go away any time soon. We are still in the crisis stage of the 'issue-attention cycle', where media, politicians, scientists and academics (myself included) all clamour for attention in a media frenzy. But that begs the key question of how lessons from this extreme weather are going to be embedded in future policy and decision-making. Can we use this as an opportunity to bring home to all of us how climate change is actually relevant to us all, demanding a significant change in the way we make policy and decisions; moving away from an economic growth obsession. This opportunity space provides the focus of this opinion piece.
In recent weeks we have had pretty amazing weather and we have seen, at first hand, the power and destructive force of nature. Gales, floods, erosion, landslips resulting in serious damage to key transport infrastructure, homes and businesses. This raises fundamental questions over the extent we have and we are building resilience into our developments and whether we are considering joined-up solutions to these problems. In particular, the government's fixation on economic growth relaxing regulation and bureaucracy and cutting investment in local government and environment may well be inadvertently magnifying these problems leading to increased vulnerability in the future. This piece drawing on recent findings from our own research work assesses how we might improve our planning responses by working with nature rather than trying to defeat it.
The government have stated with much political gusto that they will be the first government ever to have cut the number of regulations on the statute book. This is part of their promise to cut red tape and bureaucracy. The loss of over 80,000 pages of regulations and guidance raises fundamental questions about the role and value of regulation and its potential impact on the built and natural environment. In this blog I want to look at the many faces of regulation and their role in supporting good policy and decision-making. In so doing I directly challenge the simplistic government view that regulation is bad for business and bad for growth.
I am neither a supporter nor an objector to fracking. However as an academic planner I am increasingly concerned about the process by which fracking is being railroaded, with much haste, into the UK energy policy landscape, seemingly on the presumption that fracking is inherently good for UK plc, without any evidence -led process and without public dialogue and consultation.
Fracking represents a transformative shift in UK energy policy. The coalition government has extolled it as one of the potential solutions towards achieving abundant and cheap energy. Fuelled by what has happened in the United States, there is a clear appetite for UK PLC to get in on the benefits. The Prime Minister has endorsed it publicly, claiming that any opposition is irrational. Furthermore, there are government proposals to ensure that communities and local authorities benefit from 100% of business rates increases by allowing fracking 'in their backyard'. This blog examines the dangers of making significant and hasty policy changes without providing the necessary information and consultation processes to the public over its potential effects and impacts.
The recent published report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change should make for sobering reading. But climate change generally brings a big sceptical yawn from the population at large, exacerbated by government reluctance to do anything that might harm the interests of UK PLC. I argue in this blog that the framing of climate change is in urgent need of changing. George Monbiot argues that climate breakdown is a more accurate portrayal of what is happening rather than climate change and it was his polemic that provided the inspiration for what follows.
The History Boys by Alan Bennett, The Crescent
It's clear that the discourse concerning the politics of education - what is taught and how it's taught - has never been so pertinent as it is today. Just think how much newspaper coverage Michael Gove's policy to revamp the National Curriculum gets on a daily basis.
So Alan Bennet's play The History Boys, about education and the purpose of academia, is a timely, succinct reminder of some of the issues embedded in this debate.
What is the role of a teacher? To get students into university by instilling knowledge and 'facts' for the exams or is it to inspire a real love for learning, a passion for knowledge? What kind of a teacher do we want our own children to be taught by in their school? And just what is the value of that learning, that particular kind of schooling? And, indeed, whose education is it anyway?
According to some educationalists, one of the criticisms of Gove's National Curriculum policy is that it places neither the pupil nor the teacher at the forefront of education. The policy undermines both of these people in favour of institutional control over the management and delivery of education. But there are others who actually want education (schools) to be regulated, monitored and teachers to be accountable for pupils' performance and attainment.
Whatever side you fall on, there's no doubt that education is a becoming political minefield. There is, therefore, an urgent need to for us all to be involved in the shaping of a new kind of schooling, a schooling that is supposed to give our children a rounded education (although you might be forgiven in thinking, wasn't that what comprehensive education was all about?).
Perhaps you might take issue with the play's eccentric, maverick teacher, Hector (played by Alan Marshall), who says 'I count examinations, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education - which is not to say that I don't regard education as the enemy of education too.' Or with Mrs Linton who states, '... the chief enemy of culture in any school is always the headmaster.'
The setting of The Crescent Theatre's production of this delightful comedy is the Midlands (originally Bennett's Sheffield). It's directed by Robert Moule and is generally a faithful recreation. The staging is good and makes effective use of space; sound (pop music from the 1980s) is atmospheric and lively and the acting, on the whole, is commendable. There are superb performances and excellent timing from Alan Marshall; Will Jefford (Crowther); Gwill Milton (Timms) and David Harvey (Scripps).
However, two hours and forty-five minutes in length is perhaps rather long for this venue. The production is a bit slow in places and could do with some fine tuning and serious editing. You also get the impression that some of the scenes are a bit too didactic and sentimental. And, perhaps understandably as it was the opening night on saturday, there were one or two teething problems here and there but nothing major. For instance, on the upper stage actors need to project their voices because they were a little faint.
Finally, there is the underplaying of humour - and that's a fatal omission in a play of this calibre; a play that thrives on wit and comedy.
On the whole, the team still needs to do some extra homework on this production but in terms of a grade, this reviewer will give it a satisfactory C (could do better) and a mark of 6/10.
There's a certain aptness - if not little irony - that it's taken an Aussie who's spent 20 years in America to help quintessentially British silversmith Mappin & Webb tend its wares to the Chinese. But that's exactly what Aurum's CEO Justin Stead has done, he explained at the first of Birmingham Forward's new series of "Birmingham Led" talks last night held in Barclay's swanky Latitude lounge in One Snowhill.
Aurum also owns high street stores Goldsmiths and Watches of Switzerland, and the transformation has been driven by changing the culture of the company with big ideas and visions. Stead relates a literal "water cooler moment" when he played a profanity-laden clip of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at a conference arranged for 600 store staff shortly after he started. Nothing like making an entrance. The next year he played a clip of President Kennedy's promise to get to the moon. All very stirring.
I asked my companions afterwards which business leaders in the UK would be able to pull this dream big stuff and we were all stuck for names. The success stories which immediately jump to mind (Branson, Sugar et al) are self-made entrepreneurs.
Do you reckon Michael O'Leary or Stelios could take on an ailing retailer and turn it around? Could Hilary Devey or Deborah Meaden's brassy battle-axe personas be turned to create such a touchy-feely culture? Would a clip of Margaret Thatcher reclaiming the Falklands stir the same passion on the shop floor?
There seems to be something not quite British in this approach. We've traditionally been the understated underdogs, not used to theatre in business. Stead narrates how he promoted a number of senior managers to board directors in front of the assembled masses at one of his conventions. Perhaps we Brits have something to learn from this polished showmanship as we slowly start to see economic recovery?
One nugget Stead did admit is that Aurum is eying up a "very large" unit in the redeveloped Mailbox. It's doubtful it will have the bedrooms of its planned Watches of Switzerland flagship store in Regent Street (the bottom floor, Stead casually proposes, is aimed at time-pressed Chinese tourists looking to drop £30k and hurry to a matinee of We Will Rock You). But it is another shot in the arm for Birmingham's retail future.
At events like this attendees would usually be desperate to bend the ear of such a senior speaker, but today was a little different given it was the glitzy launch of the Library of Birmingham. My co-conspirators at the Birmingham Forward do had wangled their way onto the guest list but I hadn't. No problem, they reckoned; one gatecrasher out of our group would be easy to blag in.
And so it proved, which made me both overjoyed and overawed. The building is simply stunning inside and out. I had my initial doubts about whether the external design will date horribly (a design which, the fantastic Urban Buildings blog points out) bears a remarkable resemblance to Mecanoo's proposed design for the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
But standing on the roof garden watching the sun set over the city is a truly stunning sight. And, considering I've heard jokes made about it looking like a posh lampshade, when it is illuminated at night it is a proud architectural statement for Birmingham.
Coming down the escalators as the party drew to a close, I bump into a regular lunching companion of mine. "Oh I wasn't on the list either," he quips. "I just told them I was Ian Ward, deputy leader of the council and that they had to let me in." Fearing security could descend at any moment, I decide it's the appropriate time to make a swift exit.
Walking down towards the old Central Library, I was boxed squarely around the ears by Count Basie. Part of my hesitation to take to the new library initially was my affection for its old Brutalist predecessor. I came to Birmingham exactly a decade ago this September to study saxophone at Birmingham Conservatoire, many of whose practice rooms are buried in the concrete bowels of Paradise Forum in a space mysteriously monikered "The Void".
The Yardbird was then and still is now the stomping ground of young jazzers from the Conservatoire, who use it as a place to try out their compositions before submitting them to their Profs. You'll hear the good, the bizarre and - inevitably - some jazz flute at some point.
Last night the Tom Dunnett/Baxter Big Band were playing, the soaring sound of 14 musicians crammed into a tiny pub spilling out onto the street; arresting my progress and drawing me in. Dunnett/Baxter is not one Tom but two, both Conservatoire trombonists who formed the band originally for a "one-off" vintage swing night at The Yardbird in 2012. It quickly transformed into a residency, with players and tunes changing to keep things fresh.
Standards like Nestico's Basie Straight Ahead are played with panache. They rub shoulders with more unusual original pieces, such a Telemann arrangement by band trumpet player Nick Dewhurst which was Souza meets Mingus. Talking of Mingus, Sam Craig and Chris Maddock battle as proficiently as the tenors on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat from Nostalgia in Times Square - staccato, punchy and powerful. Alto player Elliot Drew's improvisations are beautifully lyrical and soaring on Sean Gibb's arrangement of Give It Up. Overall, it's a strong and tight ensemble with fantastic playing and soloing all round.
The Tom Dunnett/Baxter Big Band will be back at The Yardbird next month and are also appearing at The Wondersmith Craft & Music Festival on 15th September at Bentham Old Hall in Gloucestershire, which also promises spinning, blacksmithing and even butchery displays alongside some power swing. Certainly sounds diverse.
I left The Yardbird with the vibrato-laden coda of April in Paris repeating in my head over and over on the way back to the 'burbs. In this city, both the old and the new glisten with greatness.
We are, thankfully, in the last days of Silly Season; this time of year so monikered as it's when Parliament rises, so (traditionally) there are few policy stories emanating from Westminster. The national press has little political hard news to get its teeth into, so there are reams of pages and rolling news channels to fill with fluff. A PR practitioner's dream, you'd be forgiven for thinking.
Not quite. Anyone with kids has a break for at least two-weeks at some point during August. Child Protection forces are duty-bound to intervene if you don't. What it does mean is that Sod's Law occurs. Frequently. The single journo who writes Sprocket Weekly who's been chasing you for a particular angle on a story is away at just the time you get the information he's been hankering at. And you just *know* that a morning telly news show will want your client for tomorrow just as said client has turned on their out of office. If you think placing those "fluff" stories is easier for us flacks during Silly Season, think again. But then a change is as good as a rest, yes?
"Who'd want to be Amey right now?" asks my lunch companion, a reasonably-placed wonk within Birmingham City Council. He's bang on. All eyes are on them as the tunnel works culminate. The view from that red bridge which traverses the Queensway from CBD to the JQ has been a picture of calm every time I've crossed it recently. And I've been commuting by car into the city most days during August and the run has only been delayed once, when a coach broke down on Dartmouth Circus.
But here's the challenge. Amey must finish the project on time. We shrugged our shoulders with typical British despondency when Wembley Stadium wasn't finished to schedule. But things have changed. The London 2012 Olympic Park was finished on time and under budget, we're told. And the new Library of Birmingham is already giving press tours to selected blogerati (I'm assuming my invite was lost in the post...) The line in the sand has been drawn. Big construction projects now need to finish when their patricians first promised they would. As the schools start back and the whole city returns from the summer holiday, let's hope the first week in September doesn't bring the mania on the roads those naysayers predicted when the tunnels closed. Now where are those new figures on the cost of HS2?
Talking of economic projections, Graeme Chaplin from the Bank of England gave a presentation to Birmingham Future last Thursday evening on the state of the economy. Their graphs don't offer a singular prediction, but a main broad 30% probability arc followed either side by two other 30% probability regions. I popped a mini-aspirin at that point. What's clear is that by mid-2014 pretty much anything could have happened in terms of both inflation and economic growth. My colleague Chris, who likes a wager, turned to me at this point and said "wow, they're really hedging their bets aren't they?"
Personally, I'm bullish. That's the Wall Street Wanker term for optimistic, right? My own experience is that looking round this city, construction projects are beginning to get underway in the private sector with some genuine vigour once again. There's no doubt gargantuan public-sector projects like the work at Aston University, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham City University at Eastside and Queen Elizabeth Hospital have helped ensure our city's construction industry subbies on their hands and knees fitting kit haven't collapsed entirely during this recession. But a good number of more modest commercial projects around the city have had their pilot lights lit recently. Could we finally be seeing green shoots in the construction sector?
By the time I left the Bank of England event, I'd missed some informal drinks set up by the city's young Tories to welcome Cristie Bowcher-Royce. She's the newly appointed campaign manager for Northfield. I caught up with her yesterday, however, and don't let your double-barreled prejudice get the better of you. She's no Sloany trust-fund girl foisted in on a Gap Yahhh. It's more than 18 months til the 2015 election, but the Conservatives will be fighting hard in Birmingham.
A friend of the editor of this venerable organ once joked that "Birmingham will be great once it's finished." With that quip in mind, farewell to Silly Season 2013. It's been a blast. Let's get back to work and carry on creating this city.
The Home Affairs Select committee warns today that we are 'losing the fight' against low-level Internet crime.
They're right, but there's a bigger problem than the sometimes laugh-out-loud amusing phishing scams which pepper my spam box from time to time. After all, I don't know one person who has been seriously seduced into claiming a "tax rebate" from HMRC after receiving an unsolicited email.
But I do know one friend who last week received an email from his bank so badly worded that he reported it as a phishing scam. It read:
This is Natwest Bank Fraud Team. Please contact us urgently on 08453560020 regarding suspect fraud on your account.
As he points out in a rant on Facebook, the bank never refers to itself as "Natwest Bank", but prefers "NatWest". That with combined with the "regarding suspect fraud" triggered the usual sigh and raised eyebrow, followed by prompt deletion. Then his business debit card was cut off.
It flags an issue which is of far bigger concern - we're losing the communication battle. In the Internet age, Generation Y is growing up on a diet of increasingly abbreviated and informal communication. We're increasingly moving away from face-to-face chatting to each other. Instead we stare into BlackBerrys even when at the pub. Terribly social.
Okay, this might have the ring of "aren't all the policemen looking younger" about it. I'm nearly 30 FFS, so indulge me. Us Millennials are growing up disconnected from the real world, looking at life through an iPhone screen. The Instagram filter is the modern equivalent of rose-tinted glasses. I should know, I'm criminal of it myself.
But in seriousness, it has the potential to have a knock-on effect on society. Ironically in an era where we're always connected and there's always somebody online willing to message us it can have the opposite affect. We're a generation in danger of becoming disconnected from the physical. The visceral. The real.
Put down the smartphone, kids. Get out there and socialise. I mean properly socialise.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR and Chairman of PRCA FrontLine Midlands.
David Kuczora reviews Up4aMeet at The Crescent Theatre.
The first pair of buttocks were exposed a conservative 15 seconds after curtain up. I counted one muted gasp, several squeals of delight and a couple of stifled giggles.
David Cameron can relax however; this was LIPA-trained actor Chris Wills in a play at The Crescent so it's art, not pornography. Keep calm and carry ars... I mean on.
A group of my culture-loving friends and I had been swayed by the thought-provoking pitch for Up4aMeet on the web, which promised Lloyd "X Factor" Daniels, Nikki "Who Is She?" Grahame and "more nudity than is decent".
The philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that our propensity to enjoy the arts is limited by our upbringing and life experience. It's our cultural capital, and explains why shows which juxtapose "high culture" production values and theatrical techniques with a good ol' yarn tend to enjoy commercially-successful long runs. The Lion King, currently on at Birmingham Hippodrome, is a case in point. Who doesn't love big flashy costumes and an Elton John tune?
Up4aMeet is unapologetically low culture. After all, former Big Brother contestant and self-proclaimed "sexual activist" Benedict Garrett spends the virtually the entire show completely nude. At one point he breaks the fourth wall -- and his ludicrously over-the-top Spanish accent -- to deliver a literally balls-out soliloquy on how the joke is really on the audience, given the paper-thin plot and hammy acting.
Both despite and because of this it's a likeable show, delivering some witty moments of well-observed social commentary about love and life on the gay scene currently.
The two flatmates who agree they're long overdue a catch up sit side by side silently checking their phones for under a minute before agreeing they should do it again soon. The overarching nervousness of Generation Y to get out and meet people, instead dating with a keyboard and cyberspace as a safety buffer in between.
The cast were clearly having fun; at one point just before the play's climax there was an uncontrolled bout of giggling. Penny Tasker (of RADA doncha know!) stole the show, her catty and camp one-liners disparaging enough to make her the model fag hag.
Up4aMeet doesn't pretend to the literary gravitas of Jean Poiret, but it's a delicious romp nonetheless. Perhaps instead a budget Birdcage for a Grindr age.
On the 11th July I attended the Royal Town Planning Institute's (RTPI) Annual Convention in London and like many planners in the audience was waiting expectantly to hear Eric Pickle's (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)) keynote address. We were not disappointed as Yoda, Spider-Man, the Walking Dead, the A team and a 1940s penguin book on Town Planning, all featured.
This weekend the Central Library will close to the public - marking another historical chapter in the life of this second city. So I thought I'd re-print the poem that was commissioned when I was Poet Laureate of Birmingham (2000-01) when the plans for its closure were first unveiled. This is what the Central Library meant to me, means to me....
The Central Library
(The Central Library) is like a place where books are incinerated.
HRH Prince of Wales, BBC, Ominbus, May 1988
I've read that you're coming down,
marking the end of an age, the passing of time.
You stood tall throughout my youth
you, my O' level days of the seventies
you, my hideaway, my secret den
my literary construct -
a child of the sixties.
In the eighties,
you played reason in a turbulent universe
you, that was serene and quiet
the cultural oasis of contemplation,
the modest intellect
fading away like a monastery -
and their burning of books outside your door.
In the nineties,
you played the role of my reference,
my bearing, my guardian,
a poem in the making,
you, that life in a dying world,
a blighted star,
the focal point of protests and demos -
skateboarders and refugees.
In history you'd be the republican, the genius,
the constitutional architect,
the formulator of democracy,
or a document like the Magna Carta
or the Bill of Rights -
the thorn in the side of monarchy.
You acted as a symbol like a discerning belief
a sacred place, holy as the Vatican
or the Ganges
prominent as the Great Wall of China
and just as deep -
where God was dissected like a museum piece.
You were the thought,
a microcosm of my world
you, who were rich and rare,
a statement of Time personified
not the past or the present -
but a picture of tomorrow that never was
like the unforeseeable winebars and McDonalds
that emerged like cancer growing inside you.
And perhaps, today,
you were not so much a failure
but an incomplete hope in a jaundiced world
of money, aesthetics and government policies,
crumbling away like a meteorite
or an asteroid heading for earth,
a revelation defined by a scientific law.
And so you're crumbling down,
book by book at the turn of the century
rejuvenating in another world
marking the passage of Time -
Taking rubble to rubble, dust to dust
and with them, all my ashes.
I had lunch with the washed-up former hack Richard McComb last week, who recently surrendered his shorthand notepad back to the subs desk at this venerable organ.
It's sad to see how quickly those predisposed to infirmity go downhill when they suddenly leave the life they're accustomed to of hard work and daily penitence.
Some purchase a motorbike. Some choose to "find themselves" (urghhh) in South East Asia. My trusty Economist Style Guide tells me not to beat around the bush and declare it as it is: a mid-life crisis.
And so begins poor Dickie's. He's become a suburban vigilante, fighting street crime at night in Harborne. Sadly, I'm not even joking.
He tells me that every week, with almost clockwork regularity, he confronts a gang of assailants who wreak mess and havoc. They attack in the night; anytime between dusk and dawn. They relentlessly rip open bin sacks and strew refuse over the neatly-edged lawns and pavements. They're almost feral.
No wait, Dickie informs me. They actually ARE animals. And, despite my knowledge of his unsoundness of mind currently, I believe him. He's not hallucinating. As I've experienced it too.
Anyone who lives in the suburbs will have heard the strange howls at night. But this ain't some Conan-Doyle mystery (although I'm sure bored housewives throughout the city would welcome me reminding Benedict Cumberbatch *yet again* that he's always welcome round for tea...)
It's urban foxes. That makes them sound glamorous. Edgy. Like they should be running a pop-up street food stall wearing Wayfarers and a ridiculous hat. But they're not. They're just a bloody nuisance.
I live in Sutton Coldfield and see the mess they leave weekly. Countless half-finished Waitrose ready meals, nappy bags and once a whole pineapple -- a putrid, rotten pineapple -- pepper the streets.
In fairness to the city's binmen, they do an admirable job at dealing with the debris. But the problem could be solved by wheelie bins.
I just don't understand the vitriol people have to there introduction? I've listened to the arguments against them and it just leaves me biting my tongue so I don't tell them to fox off.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine. He sits on the City Centre committee of Birmingham Future.
Planning generates controversy, passion, money, winners and losers in equal measure. Given recent media comments it is timely to reflect on why and how we plan and who and what we plan for? Such planning fundamentals have got lost and confused in the murky political football of recent planning reforms and controversial planning applications which together fuel an unhealthy dualism between those that seek to develop and those who seek to protect. However, good development needs both.
Trains are an essential part of securing Birmingham's future prosperity, we're told. It may have been a transport dream less ambitious than HS2, but yesterday city councillors managed to derail the transport vision of many suburban commuters.
As an irate Martin Mullaney tweets, Labour Councillors yesterday voted to "sell land in Camp Hill needed to re-open Moseley and Kings Heath railway stations [as well as new stations at] Fort Dunlop and Walmley".
Once you grow up a little and need more space than a two-bedroom city centre pad, the natural places to look for the city's young professionals are the trendy suburbs of Kings Heath and Moseley. Great pubs, a growing street food scene, live music and enough Bohemia without being Selly Oak studenty.
No wonder there have been serious calls for Birmingham City Council and Centro to reopen the train heading there to help ease pressure on the crowded commuter bus services.
My fellow columnist Keith Gabriel, a Kings Heath resident himself, will be writing about this travesty in more detail in the Birmingham Post shortly. Watch this space.
The title of this blog is adapted from a quote by W.B Yeats and exposes a serious disconnect with the general direction of university education policy and practice in England. Increasingly, there is a focus on satisfying the customer; namely the student. Whilst this appears entirely logical there is a significant shift in process and outcomes of degrees that is turning our universities into establishments that resemble a secondary school rather than a place of academic challenge and critical thinking; a place where student 'buckets' are filled.
Peter Tatchell opened the press conference for Birmingham Pride 2013 to spread the campaign in support of gay marriage. He spoke of love and acceptance and how far we've come; none of the angry activism he's best known for.
It shows how far the UK has progressed in terms of LGBT equality. And what a change indeed. The police used to lock people up just for being gay. At this year's Pride - despite a record 75,000 attendees - they arrested nobody. A quite astounding statistic which shows just how attitudes have changed.
Were some people drunk? Yes. Was there the faint whiff of marijuana in the air? Occasionally. Was there rowdiness? Sometimes. Were the police and security turning a blind eye? Not at all. There was just no swivel-eyed witch hunt, but instead a fair and sensible approach to managing the revellers.
I saw the Inspector leading the policing effort standing atop the Barclays Spectrum double-decker bus during the parade through town. Stuart Bill is about seven feet tall and runs marathons, so it's difficult not to notice him. He looks like a proper copper. "I wasn't invited onto the float," he laughed when I bumped into him later. "I just assumed nobody was going to stop me."
During the day the police posed with Pride-goers for photos and happily let them wear their hats or helmets. Genuinely people seemed to be having fun.
Backstage on Saturday afternoon I caught up with Free Radio's Dan Morrissey, who was hosting the Main Stage. He reckoned the feel of the event was much improved on previous years: "It's a totally different atmosphere. Wrist-banding is the best thing they've done. Has kept out the people who were just there to get drunk and it's been brilliant for it."
I'd be inclined to agree. As I left The Village in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, the streets felt safe.
Me, Miss Marty and Dan Morrissey from Free Radio
Neil Elkes reports in today's Post on the borrowing freeze which has scuppered the redevelopment of the Queensway tunnels, ending with a tunnel fact file.
My boss Clive was quick to chime in with an apparently omitted fact about the naming. Myth has it that when Queen Elizabeth II was invited to open the Queensway tunnel - one of the most advanced tunnelling projects in the city ever - that instead of giving her name to just one she declared "I name this ring road the Queensway."
Rather than correct our monarch, the city decided to instead append "Queensway" to every road on the route. This, apparently, explains some more bizarre road names such as James Watt Queensway, St Martins Queensway and Moor Street Queensway - I mean, Moor Street was a street; it didn't need to be Queensway too.
But is there any truth in this urban legend? I asked Brummagem historian Carl Chinn, who confirmed he'd heard the story repeated over the years but has never seen it substantiated. He reckons the definitive answer might lie in Birmingham City Council's Archives and Heritage, which will reopen in the new Library of Birmingham in September.
The perfect excuse for me to visit on opening day.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
Have you ever been to one of those dinners where you get placed next to somebody you don't know?
If you have, you'll know that inevitably there can only be three outcomes:
There are the brilliant times when you meet somebody who you find an instant rapport with. Or, at least, can match each other drink-for-drink and spar in mutual banter for the night. It's great fun either way. You swap business cards and, depending whether you actually like them, will afterwards make an effort to keep in touch.
The second variety is where you're bored to tears by your kismet companion. This happens before the main course even hits the linen, by which point you're planning an inventive excuse to excuse yourself. You've probably already sent a shifty text under your napkin to a colleague or mate asking them to ring you urgently so you can duck out. If you haven't, you're thinking about "just nipping to the loo", never to return.
The most awkward of all though is where you're placed next to somebody you really don't like. At all. The difference here versus the other two coping options is that you have no escape. Perhaps you're attending a mid-week work conference and this is one of the compulsory events. You know your early exit would reflect badly on you. So you've got to just grin and bear it.
At this moment you have two choices. You can tell your forced dinner companion exactly how you feel. But, as you're unable to take Option Two of a hasty yet dignified exit, this wouldn't be a wise move. So you have to sit there and put up with it.
Thankfully, this has only ever happened to me twice in my life so far. Somebody who won't agree to disagree, but will vehemently keep hammering home their point in a hope you'll be swayed.
It's uncomfortable at the time, but the moment you leave the room you'll want to let off steam. You'll call your partner or a friend and vent. Then calm down. Move on.
A few weeks later you might even make light of the entire ridiculous scenario at other similar event as a throwaway anecdote: "You won't believe who I was stuck with the other day". A good bit of gossip does tend to lubricate some otherwise dull-as-dishwater dos.
On the front cover of most of today's papers, Baron Feldman of Elstree is accused of making just that type of disclosure. He allegedly called grassroots voters "swivel-eyed loons". He denies it.
Whether what is reported about Lord Feldman is true or not, it should be a stiffener for us. It's easy spout the verbal equivalent of green ink if you've got yourself riled recently. But, if you're not careful, you could soon find yourself as the type of dinner companion others start moaning about. If that happens there's no telling who'll listen to (and repeat) their tales.
Best to take an antacid and get rid of the bile straight away.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
I was properly put in my place today. Halfway through my starter at an awards do at the Hyatt hotel I launched into my stock rant about "the business community".
I have a bugbear about it. Not the concept of community itself, just whenever the actual word is used. It's all too often. Think about where you last heard it. Put inverted commas around it with your air-fingers and say it. "Community."
It was first drummed into me when I was a novice flack via The Economist Style Guide wrapped across my knuckles. Its entry reads: "The business community means businessmen (who are supposed to be competing, not colluding.)"
So that's been my mantra all these years. But today I was resolutely corrected.
I was sitting next to John Handley from Finance Birmingham, who told me I was wrong. The concept of the business community used to exist in this city, in the context of the financial sector at least.
When he was working for an investment firm, he admitted to colluding with other firms. They worked together to practise in a certain way. It was based around keeping the action here in Birmingham.
If you had a deal going through, the gentleman's agreement was you would use Birmingham advisors rather than send work to London or Manchester. You'd select your law firm and accountant based on the energy of the people pitching for the work. And you'd look for genuine spirit. People who you believed in; and vice versa.
Also, as Handley told me, he went head-to-head with his mates when there was a deal to be done. You'd talk about the strategic vision for the city and try to turn it into reality, then slog it out against each other to close a new piece of business. Maybe not "community" as much as a squash game.
So perhaps we should collude in business? We can sit down and agree the core rules which govern us. We can agree a bigger common purpose we support and strive for. It doesn't make us any less competitive. It may even make us more civilised.
We're not a business community. But we are all taking part in a big game of squash, perhaps without even knowing it. I don't think that's any bad thing. Now, who wants to play?
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
On Thursday May 2nd yet again local authority elections failed to capture the imagination of the majority of the electorate. Amidst all the analysis of the rise of UKIP and the wider malaise of the three main parties, there has been an absence of analysis of the most troublesome statistic that rears its head at every election again and again; voter turnout. This raises a key question of whatever happened to your vote.
In previous blogs for the Birmingham Post I have been critical of the way that current planning policy is 'disintegrated' leading to unnecessary conflict and poor policy outcomes which could be addressed by the use of more positive strategic planning processes. This blog reflects on an innovative process of spatial strategy formation that has been going on in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) as it finds its way in the messy institutional landscape in the West Midlands. On the 25th April at St Andrews I attended a planning summit to critically discuss progress and where I am pleased to say neither the goalposts nor the playing field were changed!
What's been happening in Parliament this week:
- Education Secretary Michael Gove criticises Birmingham LEA and names the best school in the city
- Shropshire MP Mark Pritchard calls for immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians
- David Cameron blames Labour for the Stafford Hospital scandal
- Birmingham MP Jack Dromey recites a hymn
Eric Pickle's recent amendments to permitted development proposals to allow 'monster' domestic extensions up to eight metres without planning permission, now with the support of neighbours is to be presented to the House of Lords this week as they debate the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. This blog argues that this is a costly distraction from the growth agenda where the core issues of availability of finance and a clear coherent plan and institutional response for recovery are conveniently being bypassed. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill has a mishmash of proposals that together create uncertainty and confusion. Furthermore, it represents a government desperate for headline-grabbing initiatives rather than confronting the more powerful and financial interests that hold the key to unlocking the growth agenda.
I previously highlighted one of the most powerful speeches attacking Margaret Thatcher's legacy during the special Commons debate. But here's one from a West Midland MP who praised her.
Margot James (Con Stourbridge) talked about the condition Britain was in before Lady Thatcher came to power, and argued that "the policies that she pursued with such bravery and determination" made it possible for industry to succeed and create jobs.