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The Birmingham Post offers no apology for returning - again - to the question of whether or not Jaguar Land Rover should receive any Government aid to help it survive the most savage economic downturn in the peacetime history of the car industry.

The answer, we firmly believe, should be an unequivocal yes.

The national Press, which has unanimously argued against intervention, would doubtless accuse us of special pleading.

Merry Christmas everyone! Of course, speaking as a non-religious person myself; Christmas isn't just about Christianity any more. Christmas, in this country at least, is a time for people of all faiths and beliefs to come together.

For example look at this fellow here. He believes gays and jews should be hanged. You know hanged, like to death probably. From a big crane. And your tax money is paying for him to appear on television. Hurrah!

A distinct change of tone from the Government over whether it is willing to make a billion pounds or more available to carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover.

Last week, treasury and business minister Ian Pearson (Lab Dudley South) was asked about talks between the business and the government about offering financial report.

While he wouldn't confirm talks had taken place, he said: "What I want to say clearly to the House is that the automotive sector is extremely important to the UK.

Peter Mandelson and I publicly had a meeting with a wide cross-section of the automotive manufacturers, suppliers and retailers on 27 November.

"We continue closely to engage with the sector, and I am determined that we do everything we sensibly can to help viable businesses during these exceptional times."

It sounded pretty positive.

In a debate in the car industry today, the tone seemed very different.

He said: "I want to stress that any government support needs to be regarded as exceptional.

"These are exceptional times and we are having to contemplate doing exceptional things.

"Loans from government need to be seen very much as a last resort.

Was the Government ever entirely serious about congestion charging?
I only ask since one of the conditions laid down by ministers for the introduction of road pricing was that measures should attract broad local support.
But there was never the slightest possibility that motorists in Manchester would willingly agree to pay about £30 a week for the privilege of driving to work, and the overwhelming rejection of a congestion charge zone in a referendum must in all reality have come as no surpirse to the Cabinet.
Had 51 per cent of participants decided it was a good thing to add even more to the weekly motoring bill and volunteered to participate in the first major charging scheme outside of London, ministers would probably have fainted from shock.

For sheer thick-skinned front, it is difficult to beat Andy Albon, Birmingham City Council's director of human resources.
The architect of the pay and grading review, which resulted in about 5,000 local authority employees suffering wage cuts, in some cases by more than £10,000 a year, is becoming increasingly outspoken in defence of his creation.

We've been covering the effects of the recession on the West Midlands automotive industry in some detail in the Post, prompted by suggestions that Jaguar Land Rover has asked the Government for loans to help it get by while the banks refuse to lend.

These aren't loans to subsidise losses the business is making. They would be probably be extremely short-term deals designed to replace the credit which helps keep the complicated automotive supply chain moving even when times are good.

Dudley South MP Ian Pearson, a Business Minister, seemed to drop some pretty heavy hints today that the cash would be forthcoming, telling MPs: ""We recognise as a Government that the UK automotive industry is of critical, national importance."

The Government is already helping the motor industry, he said, but added: "There is a case that says we need to do more, and we are actively considering this at the moment."

This isn't the type of thing you say if you are about to tell a business like Jaguar Land Rover to get lost. There were no pointed comments about the need to spend taxpayers' money wisely, for example.

After the bail-out of the banks, the car industry may be next.

Even more interesting in some ways was a suggestion by Alistair Darling, at a Select Committee hearing, that the Government would not have let MG Rover go under if the company ran into difficulties today.

In 2005, when the Rover crisis actually happened, the economy was strong and affected workers had a good chance of finding jobs elsewhere, he said.

I've often wondered why so many organisations seem reluctant to embrace ways that the Internet makes it easier to get their messages out.

This is particularly the case when poor websites belonging to West Midland organisations make my job more complicated and time-consuming.

This has been the case recently and, after much frustration, I have decided it is time to name and shame.

Aston Villa 1 Mike Whitby 0

By Paul Dale on Dec 5, 08 09:39 AM in

It is now two weeks since city council leader Mike Whitby told me, towards the end of a late lunch, that he wanted Aston Villa to change its name.
At first, I assumed he was joking.
But he was deadly serious.

News that Ministers were warned back in 2002 that the Olympics wouldn't raise huge sums of money for the nation reminded me of a slightly bad-tempered interview I conducted with the Culture Secretary earlier this year.

I asked Andy Burnham why the Government didn't come clean and admit that the financial benefits would go almost entirely to London, with regions such as the West Midlands fighting over any scraps left over.

It was a fairly blunt question and his reply was equally robust.

He told me: "The games have an incredible ability to lift people.

"Certainly, anybody under the age of 25 doesn't feel at all cynical about the Olympics coming to this country, and I think the older people need to remember that and not sour it with cynicism."

The cynical, old person he had in mind was clearly yours truly, but no complaints - he was giving as good as he got.

But no apologies, either. Apparently, the 250-page document, commissioned by the Government and presented to Tony Blair, concluded the Olympics would be a "national celebration", and not an economic opportunity.

The Conservatives are trying to focus attention on Birmingham MP Liam Byrne (Hodge Hill), the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who they claim may have ordered the leak inquiry which led to the arrest of Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, is pointing out that authority to order a leak inquiry rests with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, who is accountable to Mr Byrne.

What's more, the Birmingham MP was the immigration minister when many of these leaks took place - and has good reason to want to find out what happened.

I'm not sure what they hope to achieve with this, other than to drag an up-and-coming Labour figure into the row.

I've been speaking to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg this morning. The piece I write for the Post & Mail will focus on his concern - and criticism of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - over the arrest of Tory Immigration Spokesman Damian Green.

But he also talked about reports in the weekend papers that he had been badmouthing his colleagues on the Lib Dem front benches. Apparently, "quite a lot" of the newspaper report was total fiction.

On a 90-minute flight from London to Scotland, Mr Clegg apparently told an aide that energy and climate spokesman Steve Webb had to go, home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne was not "emotionally intelligent", and schools spokesman David Laws was not enjoying his brief.

Mr Clegg also said he would be willing to enter into a coalition government, but appeared to say he expected the Tories to win an outright majority.

Unfortunately for him, a Sunday Mirror journalist was sitting in the seat in front, and overhead the whole thing. Or maybe not, as Mr Clegg claims they got it all wrong.

He said: "If you are sitting with your back to somebody and unable to see what they are talking about, what papers they are looking at and who's saying what. It's hardly surprising that the report should be wildly inaccurate.

"I'm not going to comment on it line by line, other than to say quite a lot of it was total fiction."

But after a bit of prompting, he did give more detail about the things that were incorrect.
"Steve knows that I think he's an absolutely first-rate parliamentarian or he wouldn't be such a major player in the shadow cabinet."

Mr Clegg added: "Of the many fictional parts of that article, based on misheard snippets of a private conversation in a noisy aeroplane, I think the stuff about Chris Huhne was particularly misleading."

And was he ready to join a coalition? "All complete garbage."

Of course, when he said "quite a lot" of the report was wrong, it did imply some of it was right. I'm afraid I wasn't able to get to the bottom of which bits they were, so feel free to take your pick.

If it's now an offence to leak information to journalists, half of Westminster is in trouble.

But this might be the situation we're in, after Conservative Immigration Minister Damian Green was rounded up by anti-terrorism officers on suspicion of "conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office".

His crime, apparently, is to tell the public things the Government didn't want us to know about what it is doing and how it spends our money.

Nobody denies they were true. And nobody suggests they were official secrets likely to put the security of the nation at risk.

They were just embarrassing to the Government.

It is difficult in these tumultuous times to be certain about anything.
But one prediction I feel entirely safe in making is this:
The £180 million Midland Metro tram extension through Birmingham city centre, from Snow Hill to Five Ways, will never be built.
At least, not if it has to be paid for by the Government.

My column in today's Post focuses on Birmingham City Council's campaign for greater freedom to make its own decisions. It may sound like a dry topic, but what council leader Mike Whitby is proposing is a radical change - with local authorities overseeing health and police services.

That doesn't mean councils would directly manage everything any more than Ministers in London do at the moment, but they would decide the top priorities for health spending and control police authorities, the bodies which oversee police forces.

My gut instinct is that devolving power down to local level is a good thing. Councillors have more idea what's going on in their local area than Government Ministers representing constituencies across the country.

In practice, many decisions are already made at local level by officials, but most people have no idea who they are and, unlike councillors, we don't have the power to sack them if they do a lousy job.

But when I discussed this with a colleague today, she dismissed the idea on the grounds, to put it crudely, that she didn't trust local councillors to do a decent job. Whether or not she had a high opinion of national politicians, she had an even lower one of their local equivalents.

Is this a common view? Can Coun Whitby and his colleagues be trusted to oversee our NHS?

Birmingham City Council certainly intends to keep pushing its ideas, and may have some success, as both major parties nationally are talking about devolving more power to councils - so we may find out whether they are capable or not, before too long.

Gordon Brown has been hinting again that the Government is planning to cut taxes when it presents its pre-budget report on Monday, November 24.

He told the Commons that "fiscal measures" were needed, in order to "help businesses and families now."

The Conservatives are trying to push the argument that the money to pay for tax cuts will have to come from borrowing - which will need to be paid back.

Tory leader David Cameron urged the Prime Minister to "be straight with the British people" and admit the cash will eventually have to come out of our pockets, in the form of higher taxes in years to come.

But this is a little disingenuous, as the Tories must have noticed that the Government has said more or less that.

Birmingham Hall Green MP Steve McCabe, a Government whip, said openly that the money will have to be repaid, when he spoke to the Birmingham Post & Mail recently.

Employment Minister Tony McNulty has said the same.

It's not quite certain that this will mean higher taxes, as tax revenues will rise once the economy starts to grow again even if tax rates remain the same, assuming spending is controlled.

But Labour have made no attempt to deny that taxes could eventually have to rise, and with good reason.

Mr Cameron is probably right in his prediction. But Labour are gambling that voters won't worry to much about the future if they get some extra cash in their pockets now, and if they are convinced it is all for the benefit of the wider economy as well as themselves.

What may be a problem for Mr Brown, however, is that he has raised expectations to such a level that people will be expecting a give-away mini-budget next week.

If his vaunted "fiscal measures" amount to an increase in tax credits for the low paid and a bit more on the winter fuel allowance, families on average wages who are feeling the pinch but aren't poor enough to qualify for the windfall may feel hard done by.

Birmingham City Council's failure to back unequivocally the Midland Metro extension from Snow Hill to Five Ways is not just extraordinary, it is verging on political incompetence.
Simply put, does the city's Conservative-Liberal Democrat leadership have any real wish to push ahead with the £180 million plan?

MPs are angry that they only have 90 minutes to debate plans for new regional Commons committees, which will oversee the work of Government in regions such as the West Midlands.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Con Staffordshire South) has led opposition, with an impassioned speech accusing the Government of stifling debate.

He said: "We make a mockery of this place if we do not have time to debate important issues."

So far, he's been talking for 35 minutes. As I write, the actual debate on how we run our region hasn't begun.

Call me old fashioned, indeed I am old fashioned, but I hadn't realised it was common practice among young people to smoke cannabis during or after a visit to the pub.
Of course, quite a lot of people do indulge in illegal drugs of one sort or another - but not most people.
I certainly hadn't realised this was the chosen way of relaxation among young Muslims in Birmingham.
But then, until this week, I hadn't had the benefit of listening to pearls of wisdom from Dr Mushuq Ally, Birmingham City Council's head of equalities and diversity.

The long saga of the Government's attempts to introduce regional government in England may at last be coming to an end.

Labour once hoped to introduce directly-elected regional assemblies to regions such as the West Midlands. Not because anyone wanted them, but because it would silence complaints that the Scots and the Welsh - who already have their own assemblies - were enjoying unfair privileges denied to the English.

When it became clear that English voters didn't want a new tier of regional government, the Government was stuck with a bunch of regional quangos with nobody to oversee them.

These quangos spend £1.3 billion a year in the West Midlands, but local politicians have almost no control over them. They are accountable directly to Ministers in London.

So now, at last, someone has come up with an answer. Local MPs, who, after all, we already elect and pay, are to do the job instead, with the creation of a series of regional select committees.

This may sound like yet another layer of bureaucracy, but the Commons is already full of politicians and committees. Creating a bit of time in the timetable specifically to discuss the West Midlands can't do the region any harm.

But Labour could face more embarrassment, as it seems some MPs would much rather be discussing Iran or global warming.

Has the nation forgiven Gordon Brown?

Just a few weeks ago, his career appeared to be over.

Labour backbenchers were openly calling for a new leadership contest, and the consensus at the party conference in Manchester was that he would never recover from a disastrous 12 months which saw his reputation plummet.

And it was seen as inevitable that the SNP would sweep to victory in the Glenrothes by-election, where Labour was defending a majority of more than 10,000.

But today, things look very different - and Scottish voters chose to stick with Labour when they went to the polls.

Mr Brown's party started in pole position, but even winning a hefty majority in a general election does not make a seat safe for the governing party in a by-election.

So his success in Glenrothes suggests that he is still capable of winning elections.

And although opinion polls are still giving the Tories a lead of eight or nine points, the gap between them is closing.

Mr Brown may be the first Prime Minister in history whose career is actually save by an economic crisis.

But it does like as if Labour's strategy of portraying him as the only man with the experience and gravity to lead Britain through such difficult times may be working.

Sensitivity over the relationship with private outsourcing firm Capita is so great at Birmingham City Council that it could be cut with a knife.
Stephen Hughes, the council chief executive, is particularly prickly when it comes to any criticism of the link up.
Quite what he thought the media reaction would be when the council published a "lessons to be learnt" report into installation of the Voyager IT system last year it is difficult to say.


Simon Hadley freelance photographer

Well after eight years at The Birmingham Post (five as picture editor) I am on the verge of leaving to pursue a career as a freelance photographer.

An American friend once asked me why the rest of the world insisted on poking its nose into their business - and specifically into the question of who should be the next US President.

As I tried to explain, if you're going to be the leader of the free world you have to expect the whole of the free world, rather than just a bit of it, to take an interest in the things you do.

Sometimes I think we Brits should get a vote in the US elections, as the result will certainly have an impact on our foreign policy.

But unlike most people I know who have been watching events in American, I've avoided jumping on the Obama bandwagon.

Some of the hype doing the rounds about Obama reminds me of the way people talked about Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 election.

I don't think Blair was a bad Prime Minister, but I do think some of those who were so enthusiastic about him ten or 11 years ago were disappointed, and I think some of Obama's supporters will end up equally disillusioned if he wins.

He won't want to withdraw American troops from Iraq if his advisors warn him the result will be chaos on the ground, which means he won't be able to withdraw the troops.

Birmingham International Airport's new chief executive Paul Kehoe lost little time in starting a campaign to persuade the Government not to order a public inquiry into a proposed £130 million runway extension.
Mr Kehoe had no sooner occupied his desk at Elmdon than he was briefing journalists on the possibility of a six-year delay to the project if a planning application to Solihull Council is called in by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sir Michael Lyons is rapidly emerging as the man of action who forced plodding old Auntie BBC to face up to a storm of public protest over the foul-mouthed antics of presenters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.
Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, is reported in national newspapers to have insisted that the corporation fast-track its handling of the fiasco.
Sources close to Sir Michael said he had decided the BBC was being damaged by what was seen as a sluggish response and that waiting for a scheduled meeting of the trust's Editorial Standards Committee was "not good enough".

There's an arms race in the House of Commons to see who can condemn Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand the loudest.

A group of 13 MPs including Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak) signed a Commons motion describing the pair as "base and vulgar".

This wasn't quite enough for another MP, who put forward an amendment suggesting the words "puerile, predictable" should be added.

He also suggested "their contracts should be terminated forthwith."

Finally, another MP wants the motion amended to include a reference to their "gross professional misconduct".

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Redditch MP Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, endured an uncomfortable grilling from MPs angry at the way she handled the debate over proposals to extend the time police can hold terror suspects without charge, to 42 days.

At the time Ms Smith said it was sad that "some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat".

Now she has had to explain herself to the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee, which contains MPs and peers from all parties.

Black Country MP Richard Shepherd (Con Aldridge-Brownhills) said: "It is an incredible position for a very new home secretary to launch into an attack on people who have been protecting our liberties for a very long time."

Andrew Dismore, the committee's Labour chairman, claimed she had "offended quite a few people"

The point made repeatedly by her questioners was that if she actually wanted people to support her, as opposed to scoring points, she had gone about it the wrong way.

The 42-days measure has actually been scrapped by the Government after it was rejected by the Lords a fortnight ago, and Ministers decided their chances of convincing the Commons to overturn the House of Lords decision were slim.

Usually this would have been reported as a major climbdown and humiliation for Brown, but as the economy was busy imploding it didn't get much attention.

The winterval deniers are at it again.
Ten years after Birmingham City Council invited ridicule by airbrushing out the word Christmas from its official celebrations, there are still some people eager to blame everyone other than local authority leaders at the time for bad publicity arising from the winterval fiasco.
Memories were reawoken this week when the council announced it had invested in a new set of Christmas lights, with a distinctive Christian theme.
Angels and stars will twinkle on city centre streets this year.
To underline the point, a press release detailing the decision included supportive comments from Canon Stewart Jones, Rector of Birmingham and spokesman for Believing in Birmingham - a network of church communities in the city.

Should we be relieved that Gordon Brown is willing to borrow more in order to keep the economy moving?

The effects of the recession, which is almost certainly what we are in, were seen today when Jaguar-Land Rover closed down its Merseyside plant for a week, following cuts in working hours at the Castle Bromwich and Solihull plants.

Part of the Prime Minister's response is to inject more money into the economy by spending more - even if it has to be on credit.

He told business leaders today: "That means that the responsible course of government is to invest at this time, to speed up economic activity."

And he tacitly admitted that meant borrowing, adding: "And as economic activity rises and as tax revenues recover, then you would want borrowing to be a lower share of your national income."

In other words, we'll pay off the debt once the economy recovers.

A Great Birmingham Run...

By Emma Brady on Oct 27, 08 03:22 PM in

And I wouldn't be surprised if the Bupa/Great Run bods try to snap up Birmingham's newly inaugurated half marathon for their portfolio in future.
Why? Other than it proves that when the city council put their minds to they can put on a brilliant event or show, as only Brum can.
But the expertise of the Great Run group would help elevate this city road race from being a regional must-run to a national fixture.
Considering that next year Birmingham will host the World Half Marathon Championships, I suspect it may only be a matter of time.
But despite all this praise, and it's not all a result of post-race endorphins coursing through my veins, there are one or two glitches that need to be ironed out.

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