July 2009 Archives
It didn't come as a complete surprise when a reporter from the Daily Mail phoned to ask if I had any idea where Bob Ainsworth might be on holiday.
I knew instinctively the sort of thing that was wanted.
Britain's defence chief lying on a sun-kissed foreign beach, snapped through a long-lens, naturally, while our brave boys die in Afghanistan.
In fact, I'd been anticipating a call from the moment the Coventry North-east MP was appointed Defence Secretary.
The good people of Stockland Green should not waste too much time celebrating Birmingham planning committee's decision to throw out an application for a 30ft-high mobile phone mast next to a nursery school on Streetly Road.
For while there is no doubt that local opinion is firmly against the mast - more than 300 people signed petitions objecting - the committee's refusal will almost certainly be overturned on appeal, landing the city council with a sizeable bill for legal costs.
Now that Clive Dutton is leaving Birmingham, who will put the fear of God into the city's planning committee?
Dutton, the council's director of regeneration, is off to Newham in London, where he will be responsible for delivering the "Olympic Games legacy".
A sigh of relief, no doubt, from some councillors who didn't quite see eye to eye with Mr Dutton's penchant for urban renewal.
As we reported this week, the Government is inviting bids to become the UK's City of Culture, enjoying a year in the spotlight in 2013.
This is a new scheme, following Liverpool's stint as European Capital of Culture last year.
The winning city won't get any money, although Liverpool was only promised ÃÂ£600,000 - and that never arrived, according to Phil Redmond, the Brookside writer who chaired the committee organising Liverpool's events.
There's some lively debate on whether Birmingham should apply, and what it should do if it wins, including on this website.
Martin Mullaney, the city's Cabinet Member for Leisure, wants to submit a bid.
Many contributors to The Stirrer's message board seem to be sceptical, and dread the idea of a year-long "celebration" of Jasper Carrott, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne.
Bloggers such as Jon Bounds are debating what type of the culture the city should celebrate if it did win the City of Culture contest.
My personal view is that the city should follow the same type of approach as Red Nose Day, when people are encouraged to come up with their own ideas to raise money for charity.
Instead of deciding what type of culture to celebrate, it could get the word out to anyone involved in Birmingham's cultural life in any way - from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to amateur drama groups, local rock bands rehearsing in garages and Flickr photographers - and ask "what do you want to do?"
Whoever was officially organising things - probably the city council or a body appointed by the council - would focus on encouraging and publicising rather than organising.
It could help with events where needed, for example by helping people find venues, but it shouldn't try to impose a theme or particular definition of "culture".
I would assume that our big institutions such as the orchestra or Birmingham Royal Ballet would want to be involved, and the authorities might need to work closely with them. But the City of Culture year should be open to everyone that wants to join in.
Pardon me for returning again to the elephant in the corner of the room, but the latest row over the likely route for a high speed rail link between London and North-west England underlines Birmingham's short-sightedness in failing to pursue plans for a Grand Central station at Eastside.
Whichever political party forms the next government, it seems pretty clear that High Speed2 will happen - and the favoured route for the 200mph service links London, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
But as Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, has been pointing out for a number of months, it's unlikely the trains will ever use New Street.
Peter Mandelson is right to delay publication of an inquiry into the collapse of MG Rover.
The Government inquiry was established to determined whether there was any evidence of wrongdoing in the way the company was managed, something its directors strongly deny.
This is made clear in Section 432 of the Companies Act 1985, under which it was authorised.
We don't know what the investigation concluded, as Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, has referred it to the Serious Fraud Office.
He's come in for a lot of criticism for this, with Conservatives accusing him of "kicking it into the long grass" to avoid embarrassment.
But the Tories are wrong.
The Serious Fraud Office has been asked, Lord Mandelson told Parliament, "to consider whether there should be a criminal investigation".
We don't live in a country where politicians like Lord Mandelson - or his Conservative opponents - decide who the criminal justice system investigates. And we should all be grateful for that.
It's right that the Serious Fraud Office makes the final decision on whether a criminal investigation is justified or not.
Funding for 122 regeneration projects around the West Midlands is to be axed, a government agency has announced - but it refuses to say which ones are affected.
Advantage West Midlands, a quango funded by the taxpayer, has been forced to cut spending on regeneration schemes for three reasons:
- The Government has cut its budget by ÃÂ£48 million.
- The money it raises itself, through land and property receipts, is down by ÃÂ£21 million.
- Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has ordered it to focus the money it does have on measures that directly support industry, rather than regeneration.
Perhaps, then, it has no choice but to withdraw funding from some regeneration schemes which had previously been told they could expect it.
But the refusal to name the projects concerned is a pretty blatant attempt to limit the public relations damage by making it hard for us to report what has actually happened.
The people running the projects involved know who they are, as they were told in letters from AWM chief executive Mike Laverty earlier this week.
I can't see any reason why a Freedom of Information request couldn't be used to get the details, but hopefully AWM will see sense and just publish them before that happens.
Edit: AWM have sent me this statement:
"A list of projects to which funding is no longer allocated will be released on request by Advantage West Midlands shortly. The release of this information to the media is being delayed slightly in order to ensure that affected applicants have received notification and had time to assess the impact of the funding decision.
"Some applicants may already be in discussion with alternative funding providers. We do not want to compromise those discussions by announcing that those projects have definitely been cut, when in fact they might proceed through alternative mechanisms."
Birmingham City Council, the local authority that decided to ban the use of apostrophes in road signs, is spending a lot of money on developing a new website and when officials tested the super-duper IT they discovered.......yes, you've guessed it, there were no apostrophes.
That might not have been so bad, but there were no pound signs either - which was a bit embarrassing given that the new system is supposed to enable citizens to pay council tax bills on line and make inquiries about other services.
Former West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne is not a man to say something for no reason at all.
So when Mr Byrne made a point of mentioning planned housing growth in Birmingham, his audience ought to have taken note.
Addressing the Be Birmingham strategic partnership - a gathering of executives from the city council, other public bodies and business leaders - Mr Byrne characteristically laid into the Conservative-run city council for delivering below-average schools and for lacking in ambition.
And then, in a section of the speech almost thrown away he began to talk about the number of new homes Birmingham must plan to build up to 2026.