New Name Not Enough
The Post reports more angst about what to call the region from policy wonkdom. Post Political Editor Jon Walker underlines the continuing confusion about how the Big Wide World sees us West Midlanders - or should that be Greater Brummies? The policy wonks (sensibly for once) say we need a snappier name for the region to sell better abroad. But there seems as much chance of agreeing this as Kevin Keegan sending a Christmas card to the Newcastle club chairman.
Remember Mrs Thatcher's faux pas when she visited Dudley and said how pleased she was to be in Birmingham? Folk in Dudley (or my next door hometown Smethwick for that matter) do not warm to being lumped in with Grosse Birmingham. People value their local identity. And the further from Birmingham you get in the wider region the less likely folk will see themselves as West Midlanders. But that doesn't mean that they don't want the practical links to a wider region - transport opportunities particularly.
In the end what links us at the regional level day to day is the services we need and how we access them. That's where regions and local communities come together. The truth is some services - notably transport - can only be properly provided over a much larger area than the local borough. The history of Birmingham's expansion from an obscure hamlet to a mighty city is the history of expanding political boundaries made possible by better transport and other technical improvements.
Today many of us involved in representing consumers believe we need a further jump in transport organisation. The regional transport users group Travelwatch midlands west has called for a new transport authority for the whole West Midlands region - meaning the conurbation plus the 3 million people outside it in the shire areas. A "super-Centro" would reflect current transport demand in the West Midlands rather than the patterns of 40 years ago, which led to the creation of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. On the whole Centro does a good job, but only a few places outside the urban core (Lichfield for example) get the benefit of Centro services. You pay more for less outside the Centro area.The average bus fare in Brum is ÃÂ£1.10. In Telford it's ÃÂ£1.40 for a poorer service.
Transport and other "big" services will only improve if we work to a larger canvas. Let's hope the cabinet got that message when they dropped in on Greater Birmingham the other day.