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Latest from Birmingham Post news...

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This is a mock-up of what the Post's new M-site may look like - if we manage to get the dev work, programming and processes set up in time to coincide with the launch of the new compact paper on October 20.

There's a lot to update you on since my last detailed post, so I'll try to be brief. Here goes:

"It's a bit like throwing your kid to the wolves" is how one of my colleagues described sending their child to secondary school.
And he's right. Parents across the land currently deciding which secondary to send their precious ones to will understand what he means.

It's not good for you...

By Emma Brady on Sep 15, 08 03:07 PM in

I may well promote the benefits of proactive health care, regular check-ups are as vital to us humans as regular servicing is to our cars.
But after a routine visit to my dentist today I am beginning to wonder if ignorance really is bliss, after an x-ray revealed my only wisdom tooth - which has been growing at a glacial speed for nearly a year - needs to be removed.
Now as The Post's health correspondent I have found myself in operating theatres watching everything from kidney transplants to key hole surgery, and every time have marvelled at the miracles performed there.
However I also know I am not "at one" with pain, on any level.
So the various tales I've heard so far about dentists using pliers while kneeling on patients' chests and people ending up looking like they've gone ten rounds with Tyson are not helping!
But I am fully aware that as a specialist I should have been at the business end of a surgery at some point in my life, but so far I guess I've just been very lucky.
Plaster casts are fine, scans are cool... but pointy, sharp implements and being sedated are totally new concepts to me. And perhaps I'm a little bit nervous, possibly even a bit scared.
So does anyone out there have any friendly tips or advice before I get into the dentist's chair next week?
This was not the return from a relaxing holiday that I was hoping for.
I

Fancy a cut-price trip to The Rocket Club, an exclusive "gentleman's club" in Broad Street?

I've got a voucher here offering £10 off the entrance fee, for use during the Conservative Party conference beginning later this month.

It's included in a booklet sent to me along with my pass for the event, taking place at the ICC.

The booklet, distributed by the Conservative Party but produced specially for the conference by the city council, includes an introduction by Mike Whitby, the council leader.

As well as cheap entry to the lap-dancing club, there are vouchers giving discounts in a range of bars and restaurants.

But including an up-market strip joint seems to me to be a pretty poor advert for Birmingham.

I guess, however, that some delegates might be interested. I'm not, so if anyone wants my voucher, it's up for grabs.

There will be plenty around, as the booklet has gone out to everyone attending the conference - MPs, business leaders, charity and pressure group officials, and journalists from across the country.

Whatever anyone else says about Gordon Brown's visit to Birmingham, Liam Byrne - the Minister for the West Midlands and Home Office Minister - insists it was a success.

He issued a statement claiming that the Cabinet heard the hopes and concerns of local people when they came to the city. The statement reads: "The Cabinet got a chance to hear what I hear in my day job every week."

To which some bright spark has added: "Does he hear these issues in his HO (Home Office) job?"

Presumably, this was a note added to a draft copy of the statement by someone in the press office, who remembered that Liam's main "day job" involves dealing with immigration at the Home Office, not representing the West Midlands.

But the Central Office of Information, the Government's PR factory, has simply gone ahead and published the question as part of the statement, along with Mr Byrne's words. It's currently up on their website (I suspect it will be taken down or fixed soon after I post this, however).

Anyone can make a mistake, not least journalists, so I don't want to go too far in mocking whoever was responsible for this one.

But it does add to the general impression that the Government is giving up the ghost. The spin machine has stopped working.

Update (On September 12): The press release I refer to has been removed and replaced by a new version without the error. We also ran a version of the corrected statement from Mr Byrne in today's Birmingham Post.

Why all the fuss over Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden?

This whole country seems to have taken leave of its senses and become obsessed with a political soap story that's got nothing to do with us.

Gordon Brown will set out his plans to help people pay their fuel bills in his Downing Street press conference tomorrow.

But it won't include what many of his MPs want - a windfall tax on fuel companies, so that they subsidise our bills out of their profits (about £30 billion last year).

Birmingham's Roger Godsiff (Sparkbrook & Small Heath), Khalid Mahmood (Perry Barr) and Richard Burden (Northfield) are among Labour MPs calling for energy firms to pay out.

Mr Brown has rejected this (although I suspect he'll give the impression it hasn't been ruled out entirely), and will instead talk about plans spend a modest sum helping people get new boilers and insulation.

I had a hand in the Post's leader for tomorrow's paper, in which we'll say the Government can't just slap an extra tax on firms for making too much money.

But it should look at why energy companies are continuing to increase charges - even when the price of oil actually falls.

We're supposed to have a competitive market, in which energy companies battle for our custom.

That should mean trying to offer households a better deal than their rivals, surely?

But it doesn't seem to happen.

The market isn't working. Given that re-nationalising the energy suppliers is not a realistic option, the best the Government can do to control prices is to examine this is, and how the problem can be fixed.

In the run up to The Big Debate: Are our young leaders our green saviours?, Professor Richard Green - director of the Institute for Energy Research and Policy at the University of Birmingham - discusses the challenges faced by those which aim to keep energy supplies secure and limit the damage we do to the environment

Energy has been in the news a lot recently - price rises, climate change and power cuts have all featured, along with wind farms and nuclear power.

No consumer wants high energy prices, nobody wants to damage the environment, and no one wants to turn a switch and find that there's no power, but there are few decisions we can make about energy that do not run the risk of making one of these things worse.

New Name Not Enough

By Phil Davis on Sep 10, 08 12:35 PM in Transport

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.

Feeling puzzled by protons or bamboozled by bosons?

Well the Large Hadron Collider rap could help clear some of that confusion.

I have resisted writing about my encounter with the Prime Minister earlier this week in the hope that the passage of time would have left a more favourable impression.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
After spending an excruciating hour or two in the confines of the International Convention Centre on the occasion of Labour's "historic" Cabinet meeting in Birmingham, I have come to the conclusion, to borrow a phrase from Lady Thatcher, that Gordon Brown is frit.

This has to be one of the most amazing things I have seen on the Internet for a while. Picture after picture of Birmingham citizens sporting hairstyles ranging from the surreal to the ridiculous are displayed on photo-sharing website Flickr.

But why?

Liam Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and Minister for the West Midlands, delivered a presentation to the Cabinet when it met in Birmingham's International Convention Centre today.

Above are the slides form his presentation.

If nothing else, Gordon Brown's trip to Brum has put paid to suggestions that Trade Minister Digby Jones has fallen out of love with the Prime Minister.

Lord Jones of Birmingham compered the "public engagement" event at the ICC today, in which Government Ministers met the public to hear their ideas and complaints.

As well as informal discussions - with reporters kept firmly out of earshot as politicians rubbed shoulders with ordinary folk - there was a formal question and answer session, in which the Prime Minister talked about how Britain could turn the rising price of fuel to its advantage by leading the world in greaner, more efficient technologies.

After he had finished, Lord Jones told the congregation: "It is that vision, that you have just heard for ten minutes, which persuaded me 15 months ago to give up what I was doing and become one of his Ministers."

He's either a genuine fan or a great actor.

Lord Jones also offered a plug to the Birmingham Post (the cheque's on its way), as he introduced West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill).

He said: "Those of you who read the Birmingham Post will know that Liam was voted the most powerful person in the West Midlands this year." He joked: "I hate him!"

Here is a slideshow of pictures of the Government's cabinet meeting in Birmingham taken from Downing Street's Flickr stream.

That's the question Marc Reeves decided to ask readers on micro-blogging service Twitter today:

The response? Well it was, rather predictably, lukewarm when it came to the PM.

Straight to the point: here's a video I shot inside the new offices of the Post & Mail (soon to be renamed BPM Media) the other day at Fort Dunlop.

This is where all departments - editorial, advertising, pre-press, accounts etc - will be housed by the end of November. The mood in our current home in Weaman Street in the city centre is pretty grim at the moment, given the re-organisation and editorial job losses we recently announced - so to be honest it was good to get out for a couple of hours for a preview of what the future will look like.

The hypocrisy of the two main political parties over the culling of the post offices network is staggering.
Both Labour and the Conservatives privately accept that the existing number of outlets is unsustainable in an age when more and more business is being transacted over the internet. How could they think anything else? The facts speak for themselves and as the years roll by the staple diet of post offices - paying pensions, car tax and welfare benefits - will be routinely conducted on-line through bank accounts, even by older people who are becoming far more computer-literate than was the case even three or four years ago.

As reported in the Post the rail regulator is leaning on Network Rail to clean up its act on disruptions to the rail network. This summer may not have brought much sun, but it's been a bumper season for shutting down the line to London and telling passengers they need to get on a bus (not what they paid their over-priced fares for...)

Having suffered a 3 hour nightmare bus journey to London from East Anglia recently, I sympathise. To be fair to NR, problems they may create by poor maintenance or unnecessary line closures are magnified by incompetent handling of passengers by train operators once we are forced to get off the train. In my case no information was given about journey time or destinations, so many of us got on a bus that stopped at all the intermediate stations to London when we should have been on the other bus that was heading straight to the Smoke. To cap it all, our driver didn't know where the stations were and we eventually decanted at Romford tube station after a very unmagical mystery tour courtesy of train company National Express East Anglia.

The national passenger body, Passenger Focus, has demanded a national code to tackle disruption. This will set out the sort of information passengers need and the plans each operator should have in place to manage any disruptions. But should it really be necessary to tell all these well-paid train managers how to manage?

One of the most difficult and politically high-risk tasks faced by Birmingham City Council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition since taking office in 2004 has involved changing the process by which grants totalling £10 million are handed out annually to voluntary organisations.
Cabinet members were shocked at the unfair system they inherited, where large sums of money were dispensed on the basis that if a group had always received funding it was highly likely to continue to do so, regardless of how the money was used or the performance of the organisation concerned.
This resulted in the development of what became to be seen as almost a closed-list system - a charmed magic circle of beneficiaries whose good fortune was based on historical decisions rather than any rational assessment of need.

The Post Story about over-zealous security folk banning visitors from taking snaps at the Mailbox has its echo on rail. Rail Magazine (www.rail-magazine.com) is running a bit of a campaign about the harassment of snappers at stations and other rail sites. This usually comes from contractors working on the railway, as Network Rail says it welcomes spotters and gricers.

Apparently innocent rail-spotting folk have been frog-marched off stations by security guards and the like having been told, Dad's Army ARP style, "'Ere, you can't do that !.."
A snapper on a public road overlooking current West Coast mainline works was also told not to take pictures by contractors - who sent a van to intercept him!

Interestingly, the British Transport Police Chief Constable says there is no power to stop genuine members of the public taking pictures on rail premises and (unlike at the Mailbox) there is a long tradition of photography in and around stations. Clearly the cops (who are best placed to assess any threats) are relaxed about snappers, but have some rail staff sacrificed another of our liberties to George W's War On Terror?

Hot Dippity doo! Now what?

By Marc Reeves on Aug 29, 08 03:33 PM in

We used a Dippity timeline for the first time this week, thanks to my colleague Tom Scotney.
Following a worrying number of shootings and stabbings, Tom used this web service to tell the story visually in the form of a timeline, which somehow made the stark facts evn more chilling, as it displays the names and images of the victims.

Apparently Tom Watson, the West Brom MP who helped get rid of Tony Blair, has "shifted allegiance" to David Miliband.

This is the claim of PR Week, which has produced a chart showing the people our Foreign Secretary intends to give top jobs to once he ousts the great leader from Downing Street.

If this was true, it would suggest that Brown really was in trouble. Mr Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) helped organise the "curry house plot" which saw Mr Blair forced to quit sooner than he wanted after MPs wrote a letter demanding he set a date for his resignation.

At the time, it was widely believed he'd been acting with, at least, the tacit approval of Mr Brown, although he insists they never discussed it.

But there's more to the Watson/Brown relationship than that. He's a regular visitor to Downing Street, and not just in his role as a Cabinet Office Minister. Most junior ministers don't have much direct contact with the Prime Minister.

In other words, he's a mate. If Watson really had decided to abandon HMS Brown, it would suggest the Prime Minister has no friends left.

But Mr Watson denies it. And I tend to believe him. If Brown turns out to be doomed, Mr Watson will go down with the ship.

As we reported in June, Gordon Brown pledged that post office closures could be reversed if residents set out good reasons for keeping them open in a consultation.

The results of that consultation are in, and the news is that all 56 threatened branches in the West Midlands will close their doors - except one.

By the way, I say 55 will close and I believe that's right. But Post Office Ltd would argue that only 50 are closing because five will be replaced by "outreach" services such as vans which travel to communities and deliver services at set times and days.

A van may be better than nothing, but the actual post office is going, it seems to me.

Anyway, the closures are happening. And what's more, it was announced today that 69 branches in the Black Country, Herefordshire and Worcestershire are in line for the next round of cuts - again, with 13 to be replaced by outreach services (so 56 are threatened with closure if that's how you see it).

Most Labour MPs defend the Government's position in supporting Post Office Ltd in making dramatic cuts to its network - a total of 2,500 branches across the country.

But they have opposed specific cuts in their constituencies, arguing that the wrong ones have been chosen for the axe.

You can prove anything with statistics. 58 per cent of people know that.

So perhaps it wouldn't be right to read too much into the Birmingham Post's timeline of knife and gun killings in the region over the past year.

But on the other hand, what else is there to go on? And if it suggests anything it's this: gang crime is more of a problem than many people might think in this city.

The news goes on

By Marc Reeves on Aug 26, 08 07:51 PM in

I've been cancelling appointments left right and centre over the past few weeks as I worked with the other editors to put together our plans for the changes we announced last week.
We simply didn't have the time to attend the outside meetings and network events that are an essential part of any editor's life. Despite the easy jokes about free lunches, I think it's vital that we're out meeting readers and advertisers - and are seen to be doing so.

With all the understandable reaction to Trinity Mirror's announcements of job cuts and title closures last week, I have been somewhat distracted from the job of preparing for the relaunch of The Birmingham Post in October.

John Major had his soapbox, but David Cameron has his webcam.

The Tory leader is reviving the traditional public meeting with an appearance in Worcester, where 200 members of the public will have the chance to ask him questions. Anyone can apply for a ticket, the Tories say.

You might expect politicians to do this regularly, but it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time a Labour or Conservative leader actually let the public quiz them in this manner, unless it was in a debate organised for television.

Tony Blair held a series of consultations with "ordinary people", which Labour called the Big Conversation, but they took place behind closed doors.

The nearest thing I can remember is John Major getting on his soapbox in the 1992 and 1997 General Elections and facing down hecklers.

For today's Tory Party, a soapbox would never do. The Worcester event, on August 29, has been branded "Cameron Direct" by the Conservatives, and the whole thing will be broadcast live on the internet.

But the 200 people gathered in Worcester's historic Guildhall will be far more important than the internet viewers. They will undoubtedly form an opinion of Mr Cameron, good, bad or bemused, and tell their friends and family.

Even in the internet age, no form of communication counts for more than word of mouth.

Blogger and ex-Post journalist Paul Groves asks if the price of change here in Trinity Mirror Midlands will be worth it.
My response to that is to ask: "What is the price of doing nothing?"

Pieces of Eight!

By Paul Phedon on Aug 19, 08 02:38 PM in Olympics

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It all started on 08/08/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm (China local time) and for Michael Phelps it ended with 8 gold medals and 8 new records. It seems that 8 really IS the magic number!

Let's consider the evidence: In China, 8 is most definitely considered to be a lucky number. The Mandarin pronunciation ('bÄ?') sounds similar to the word for 'prosper' (which he did) and wealth ($1 million dollar Speedo bonus, anyone?). The symbol for the number 88 looks remarkably similar to the 'shuang xi' which is a popular design meaning 'Double Joy' (he broke 7 world records for speed, AND Mark Spitz's 7-medal Olympic record!) We're not the only ones who see the correlation either. A shrewd businessman once sold the telephone number 8888-8888 for $270,723 in Chengdu, China.

Oh, and that swimsuit Phelps was wearing was created by a brand involved in the sponsoring of 8 Olympic sports, by the way!

For years no one believed Mark Spitz's record would ever be broken. On Sunday, no one truly believed it would not. I think it's probably one of the greatest things that the world of sport has ever seen! It was hugely emotional to watch and I felt very privileged to be able to say I played some small part in the event that was Michael Phelps: Swimmer becoming Michael Phelps: Olympic Legend.

In a stadium packed with Chinese, Americans, Aussies and Europeans, it didn't matter who you were there to cheer on - the reality spread through the stands like wildfire. It felt like such a massive celebration of achievement and I could tell everyone in the stands knew that they just had witnessed history in the making. He's now the most decorated Olympian of all time. I find myself wondering if I - or indeed anyone - will ever witness a sporting achievement of this magnitude ever again. Incidentally, more people watched Michael go for gold than watched the last episode of Friends. That's a lot of memories.

We know there was so much more to Michael's big win at the Games than good fortune but let's face it, a little bit of luck never hurt anyone. Although I bet the airport's metal detector goes bananas when he leaves!

Paul Phedon works for Birmingham-based S&X Media and is representing Speedo at the Beijing Olympic Games.

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