January 2012 Archives
This blog forms one of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January as part of the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute.
Each blog captures my response to the question asked and collectively contributes to a key debate about the future of the West Midlands region.
Q1 Is there a brain drain from the West Midlands?
This question poses the idea that there is a brain drain. However, we need to be careful that we identify clear evidence of this before intervening in a policy sense. So set within this note of caution I offer the following points.
How does Ed Miliband know what anyone is saying about him?
One thing that struck me as odd in an interview the Labour leader has given to The House Magazine (edited by one Gisela Stuart) is that he doesn't read the papers or watch the television news.
The interviewer, Paul Waugh (here he is on Twitter), reports:
Does he read the newspapers? "No, not really." Does he watch the TV news? "When you get home, the thing I most want to do is spend time with my kids.".
The commentariat are another group that don't trouble him. "You know I think the thing you learn most in this job is you let the commentators, the people who give you advice, to take their own view and you carry on doing the right thing as you see it."
MP Tom Watson has forgiven a researcher who plunged him into an internet row by pretending to be him - and making a joke about rape.
Mr Watson (Lab West Bromwich East), Labour's internet guru in his role as deputy party chair, said he had accepted an apology from the 21-year-old researcher and would not fire her, even though she sent an offensive message in his name.
The MP has also issued an apology after the researcher sent a message on Internet service Twitter stating: "I should log out of my twitter so that my intern doesn't twit-rape me..."
She used Mr Watson's Twitter account, which has 65,000 followers, so that the comment appeared to come from the MP himself.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has hinted at a division within the coalition over plans to introduce controversial regional pay deals.
Proposals to end national pay agreements in the public sector were a surprise announcement in George Osborne's Autumn Statement last year. The policy is opposed by unions and Labour - but Dr Cable, one of the most senior Lib Dems in the Cabinet, has now warned there are "practical problems" with the proposal, calling it "a subject we'll have to approach with very great care".
In today's Birmingham Post we've published a lengthy interview with Dr Cable, who spoke to representatives of regional newspapers about a wide range of topics including high speed rail, city mayors and the failure of big cities to match the economic success of their equivalents on the Continent.
But he also hinted that he had doubts about regional pay, a policy which is supposedly designed to help private sector employers in regions outside London to compete to staff.
I am the recipient of a reality check.
Just when I was beginning to think that the members in the House of Lords were a bunch of snivelling, retired captains of industry without any real political clout or impetus to challenge the government, they suddenly surprise me.
This week, for instance, I was delighted when the House of Lords rejected the government's Welfare Reform Bill headed by Iain Duncan-Smith of the Conservative Party on behave of the Coalition government.
They've got the bottle after all.
The order which forces Birmingham to hold a referendum on creating a directly elected mayor was approved by the House of Commons today - although it was formally opposed by the Labour Party.
Shadow local government minister Chris Williamson demanded a division and then voted against the measure, which obliged the city to hold a referendum on May 3.
Edit - Labour have contacted me to say that this does not mean the party is opposed to a referendum. The party is opposed to national government obliging the city to hold a referendum - which is what the order does - and believes local authorities should be free to hold referendums on the issue if they choose. See more below.
The order was discussed at a Commons delegated legislation committee, which is a Commons committee set up to consider detailed changes to the law which do not require an Act of Parliament. The general power to force cities to hold referendums is contained in the Localism Act, which became law last year, and the Government has drawn up orders for each city which are now being considered in committees, one at a time.
Birmingham Erdington MP Jack Dromey has this afternoon apologised to the House of Commons for failing immediately to declare payments of £57,000 from trade union Unite.
This was his statement: "Mr Speaker, I would like to make an apology to the House.
"A report has been published by the Standards and Privileges Committee following an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Last Tuesday the European Court of Appeal denied Britain's judicial right to deport Abu Qatada, the radical cleric described, as 'Bin Laden's right hand man in Europe'. Britain wanted to extradite him to Jordan, where he has been convicted of involvement in terrorist attacks. But he appealed a couple of years ago and now the ECA's ruling will make it almost impossible to hand him over to Jordan.
Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was in town this weekend and came very, very close to endorsing Sion Simon's bid to become Birmingham's first directly-elected mayor.
Mr Simon, the former MP for Birmingham Erdington, is up against Gisela Stuart, sitting MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, and Sir Albert Bore, leader of the Labour group on the city council, for the party's nomination.
Handsworth Wood: this morning my area - my very neighbourhood - was shaken once again by the sound of violence. Last summer it was the riots in the city centre, the looting and mindless vandalism. And previously, I swear, I've lost count of how many times shooting and drug-related offences have been in the news.
The HS2 decision today has generated a huge amount of controversy with passionate arguments for and against the development over the last few months.
Such is the stuff of planning. It is about making difficult decisions which will impact on people and the environment, but crucially should benefit us as a society.
Inevitably, not all people will be happy with the decision reached.
However within our decision making processes there should be sufficient clarity and transparency so that people can understand the decision set within a managed process of dialogue, consultation and listening.
In particular there should be a clear linkage with other policy approaches that allows people to see the big picture even if they disagree with the final decision.
So let's examine this in more detail.
I deliver a module to built environment students at Birmingham City University entitled 'Policies and Plans' in which we look critically at what makes a good policy or plan.
Baldrick in Blackadder provided initial inspiration as he always seemed to have a cunning plan to get out of the crisis situations that invariably resulted.
However, a good plan is dependent on a clear vision, good intelligence, assessment of alternatives, involvement of affected parties and effective review processes.
Crucially, the process by which the plan is produced is every bit as important as the plan itself.