PR for West Midlands Transport Authority is a waste of money
I do not know how much money is spent on public relations by West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.
But one thing I do know. Whatever the figure is, it is a shocking waste of money.
This organisation has for 20 years or more been a communications basket case and has as a result failed completely to get its message across. Even when it has something positive to say, it doesn't say it very well.
The latest debacle over the Midland Metro tram extension through Birmingham city centre is a case in point.
It has been clear for months that the chances of securing Government funding for the ÃÂ£180 million track from Snow Hill to Five Ways is somewhere between nil and nil.
Ministers have hinted that the money is only likely to be forthcoming if Birmingham and the West Midlands volunteers to pilot road pricing schemes. Well, that won't happen.
It's also becoming clear that the long-held scepticism among members of Birmingham City Council's ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition about aspects of the city centre route still exists.
They see the benefit of an extension from Snow Hill to New Street, linking with the new New Street Station and opening the possibility of a further Metro route out to the airport and NEC.
But they are not and never have been particularly supportive of the section from New Street to Five Ways, which poses considerable traffic-related problems since it passes along Pinfold Street, through Victoria Square and up Broad Street.
None of the above is particularly new, or surprising.
It is a fact that the council has been talking to WMPTA, or Centro-WMPTA as the organisation now ploddingly styles itself, about cutting the city centre Metro route in half by carrying out a phase one extension from Snow Hill to New Street at a cost of about ÃÂ£60 million.
The attraction of this is that it would be possible to fund a large proportion of the cost from Section 106 planning agreements - the cash paid to the council by developers in return for planning permission - and work may be able to begin regardless of whether the Government coughs up for the whole extension.
The council, in its new city centre development plan, even talks of considering some "alternative street running options for the metro that lessen the impact on the city centre".
The problem is, both Centro and the council insist on maintaining the pretence that they are still planning to build the whole extension to Five Ways. The fear, presumably, is that the Government will simply reject the whole package if it thinks only part of the route is going to be built.
But wouldn't Centro and the council have a far stronger case by putting their hands up and coming clean about what they are planning to do? All calls to Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip, a famously incommunicative man at the best of times, are fielded by the press office with the mantra "we are continuing to press for funding for the city centre extension in its entirety". No further sensible discussion about this important matter is possible, apparently.