October 2009 Archives
I've written in the past about how the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are boycotting the West Midlands select committee, a House of Commons committee set up to ensure the Government is giving the region a fair deal.
Now it seems even Labour can't get its members on the Committee. The whole thing is rapidly descending into farce, despite the best efforts of the chairman, Birmingham MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield).
There are supposed to be nine members of the West Midlands committee, which is currently investigating the effects of the recession on the people of the region.
Five of these are meant to be Labour, with three Tories and one Liberal Democrat.
But the Tories won't turn up, because they object to the whole idea of regional government.
The Lib Dems are also boycotting the committee, because they feel it is unfair they only get one member on the regional committee in places such as the south west where they have a lot of MPs (this doesn't really apply to the West Midlands, but local MPs are boycotting it anyway).
Mr Burden attempted to get independent MP Richard Taylor (Ind Wyre Forest) on the committee - but Lib Dems have managed to block this, by objecting to it in the House of Commons.
Now, Labour MP David Kidney (Lab Stafford) has left the committee, because he has got a Government job as an energy minister.
MP Janet Dean (Lab Burton) is meant to be his replacement.
But her appointment has also been blocked by opposition MPs, who appear determined to ensure the committee fails.
So out of nine committee places, only four are currently filled - and even Labour is only taking four of the five seats it is entitled to.
It is no great surprise that Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby is not encouraged by his advisers to grant live media interviews.
But, oddly enough, the man who finds it difficult not to embellish the simplest of claims appeared to be erring very much on the side of caution when he told BBC TV that some 800 council jobs were likely to go as part of a major cost-cutting drive.
Had Whitby stuck an additional nought on the end, he might have been nearer the mark.
The question at the city council has always been not so much how many jobs are likely to disappear, but how quickly can we get rid of them?
Having raised the issue of food security (along with a low-cost, convivial alternative-style means of regeneration) as a topic for their Annual Conference last week with publication of Roger Levett's essay in Fit for Purpose (see blog entry), the WMRO appears to have promptly ignored it all.
Food after all, appears as if by magic. When the Conference delegates ate their lunch, I'll bet they thought little, if at all, about the fragility of the just-in-time systems that got it there, let alone where on earth it originally came from.
Or, as pertinently, where it all went to. This includes what the food companies chuck at source or in transit, the freegan stuff the supermarkets discard, the 30% we throw away, and the dung we produce.
Birmingham's football clubs face a tax hike of more than ÃÂ£900,000 next year thanks to increases in business rates, according to Conservatives.
A press release from the Tories claims that Villa will see business rates go up from ÃÂ£637,775 to ÃÂ£1,309,380, an increase of ÃÂ£671,605.
And rates paid by Blues will go up from ÃÂ£575,460 to ÃÂ£334,650, an increase of ÃÂ£240,810.
Between them, they'll be paying an extra ÃÂ£912,415 to the taxman. It's all a result of a revaluation of business properties which comes into effect next year.
For example, Villa Park's rateable value has increased from ÃÂ£1.3 million to ÃÂ£3.1 million (according to the inspectors who decide these things), as you can see here: http://www.2010.voa.gov.uk/rli/en/basic/find/assessment-history/2010/10341021000
St Andrews is now deemed to be worth ÃÂ£1.4 million rather than ÃÂ£700,000 - and here's the link: http://www.2010.voa.gov.uk/rli/en/basic/find/assessment-history/2010/11144765000
As revaluations occur every five years, and the last one was in 2005, I'm not sure how shocking this is. Conservatives claim it could lead to higher ticket prices.
But what makes me smile a little is the toe-curling comment from Tory Shadow Local Government Minister Justine Greening.
She is quoted in the press release saying: "Even football, our national sport, is not safe from Gordon Brown's tax rises.
"If clubs pass on these extra costs, it could mean even higher ticket prices for fans. I'm sure many will think it is time to show this Government the red card."
It's one of those phrases that nobody would ever actually use, except perhaps when speaking to the media.
In three weeks' time, the last daily edition of the printed version of the
Birmingham Post will roll off our presses in Erdington, marking the end of
a publishing tradition that stretches back more than 150 years.
But it also marks a rebirth, as the Post starts a new chapter in its
evolution as a multimedia brand and its new life as a must-read weekly
There was on-line comment and a flurry of emails after last week's entry Green shoots of recovery. This was about Roger Levett's essay on guerrilla spud-growing in the WMRO publication West Midlands: Fit for the Future.
Is local government in terminal decline?
I only ask since it seems certain that forecast savage public spending cuts will force more Midland councils to hand over the dwindling number of services they continue to run to the private and voluntary sectors
The talk is of local authorities "commissioning" service delivery rather than providing it directly and the shift over the past decade has been amazing.
Even Birmingham City Council, which unusually for a large English authority continues to run most services in-house, is beginning to dismantle some of the last vestiges of a century of municipalisation.
Amidst all the talk about raising pension ages and fixing the economy, Conservatives have thrown out some interesting ideas for making government more open, at their Manchester conference.
These include a public consultation stage for new laws - after a Bill's second reading in the Commons but before it goes into committee stage, when amendments are drawn up - allowing the public to suggest changes
This will all be done online.
The Tories also plan to cut back on inspections of local authorities, and instead tell councils to publish every item of spending above ÃÂ£500 online.
The idea would be to replace the top-down accountability that exists at the moment with a bottom-up regime, where residents are able directly to scrutinise what their councils are doing.
While the aim is to let individuals get more involved in government, there will also be a role for mainstream media and bloggers in making sense of it all and providing forums for debate.
Of course, it also means there is a danger that people without internet access will be excluded from parts of the democratic process.
The WM Regional Observatory has published a 10-essay collection under the title West Midlands: Fit for the future: Positioning the region for economic recovery.
These essays are to be discussed at their Annual Conference on 20th October.
Only one contribution, however, adds something surprising, even startling to the debate. It is by Roger Levett.
But let's start with the Foreword by Ian Austin MP. I quote: we know what we need to do to make the region the workshop of the world again.
We know? Eh? Workshop of the world? Which century is this man in? Or is he merely pandering to some vague nostalgia about what went on in Matthew Boulton's time?
Older members of the Government might not understand the "nuts and bolts" on the internet, but they understand that it's important, according to Creative Industries Minister Sion Simon.
I tried something new when I interviewed Mr Simon, the MP for Birmingham Erdington, during Labour's conference this week.
Instead of picking the questions myself, I worked with website Yoosk.com, which allows the public to suggest the questions they want politicians to answer.
Topics raised by questioners includes the Government's "Digital Britain" strategy, which aims to promote digital industries and get broadband internet access into every home, and the Government's planned crackdown on internet piracy, which has been criticised by local Labour MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) among others.
Here's what Mr Simon had to say: