Latest from Birmingham Post news...
The theme of Labour's annual conference in Manchester is "rebuilding Britain" and party leader Ed Miliband will deliver his keynote speech on Tuesday.
But union leaders clashed with the Labour leadership over its refusal to promise pay rises for public sector workers.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Labour's biggest union donor Unite, warned that his members were "furious" with the Labour leadership's "crazy" policy of supporting pay restraint
And Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said Labour was "losing ground with core supporters by continuing to ignore the fact that millions of people are suffering".
In an interview yesterday, Mr Miliband conceded Labour still had "a huge mountain to climb".
The first day of Labour conference is just about done and a pattern is emerging - almost every speech mentions Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell one way or another.
For example, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP leading the party's policy review, claimed Mr Mitchell's row with police officers revealed "what lies beneath" the Tory party's veneer of compassionate conservatism.
Labour has no intention of "drawing a line" under the affair, as Tories hope.
Birmingham MP Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip, has failed to put an end to speculation about his future despite a fresh apology for swearing in a confrontation with a police officer.
In a fresh apology, the MP for Sutton Coldfield said: "Good morning, I want first of all to reiterate the apology I made last week after the incident on Wednesday night in Downing Street. It had been the end of a long and extremely frustrating day - not that that is any excuse at all for what happened.
What have Wikipedia editors done to upset Denis MacShane?
The Labour MP hit out at the website, calling it "an absolute disgrace" and a haven for racists, in the House of Commons.
Three experts in the built and natural environment at Birmingham School of the Built Environment write openly to the government asking for a policy pause to halt the ill-thought out direction of recent planning reforms.
Barely is the ink dry on the long awaited planning reforms of the Coalition government with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), when this week the Chancellor instigated further changes in order to boost economic growth. Supported by Cameron and Clegg et al., we also witnessed a concerted attack on the planning profession with, seemingly, a renewed appetite to make planners the scapegoat for the economy's woes. At Birmingham School of the Built Environment at Birmingham City University we pride ourselves on training the next generation of built and natural environment professionals, equipping them with the skills to mediate between the competing demands of people, place and environment. One module I manage is called Policies and Plans. This uses theory and practice to identify what constitutes a 'good' plan or policy. The recent package of anti-planning reforms announced this week provide an interesting example for this blog
Last week I took the government's advice and had a holiday in the UK. It was a week away on the Pembrokeshire Coast doing a combination of coastal walking, swimming and wildlife watching. Wearing my tourist hat it has always amazed me how tourism as an industry has such a poor profile as an agent of economic growth, yet ironically it is one of the world's biggest industries and is vital for UK PLC. In the UK we have a truly amazing range of environmental assets that bring people from all over the world to explore our magical Isles. It may also surprise you to know we also have high quality assets on our own West Midland doorstep.
The papers are alive with the sound of a beleaguered Chancellor scrambling for quick fixes to stimulate the economy, boost growth and declining popularity ratings. Top of this agenda is the reform of the planning system (again!), the so called 'enemy of enterprise' where the Green Belt has been singled out for special attention. Here speculation is rife that Green Belt zoning will be relaxed with major housing developments becoming national infrastructure developments thus taking the decision away from local authorities in favour of national government. In a huge sop against localism it signals the government's true intent and political posturing over allowing local people a real chance to influence their futures.
The Government should expand regional airports including Birmingham and resist pressure to focus on Heathrow, according to 17 Tory backbenchers.
While some Conservatives including former Environment Minister Tim Yeo are devoting their energies to getting a third runway at Heathrow, these Tories are warning "the current debate apparently ignores the immediate and future economic needs of the UK as a whole."
And they set out an alternative vision for Britain's future aviation strategy which would have "Birmingham as a major gateway at the centre of the UK . . . and leave Heathrow as a gateway for London and the South East."
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and others Ministers heard a first hand account of the state of the economy in Birmingham, when the Cabinet met in the city today.
An account of the Cabinet meeting provided by Downing Street reveals they heard from Andy Street, the Managing Director of John Lewis, who chairs Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, a partnership between business leaders and local authorities set up to support economic growth in the region.
Also on the agenda was rail investment, Afghanistan and the Olympics, according to Downing Street.
Although not included in his speech today, the Prime Minister does appear to be considering introducing regional benefits, so that people in one part of the country received more than those in others.
The idea was included in an early draft of the speech - presented as a "question" to be asked rather than a proposal - but cut out of the final version, Downing Street says.
We can only guess how such an idea might work in practice, but it would presumably mean that benefits were higher in wealthier parts of the country such as the south east, where the cost of living is also generally higher, and lower in the North and Midlands.
The recent talks at Rio+20 on sustainable developments have been criticised by many for achieving very little in terms of tackling the crisis facing the planet. In my view the reasons for this are clear and embedded in the way we communicate science and policy to public demanding critical self-examination and reflection.
Last week in my gym I saw a notice stating how the gym was going to be improved that night with a major re-organisation of equipment and that this represented an exciting new development in the evolution of the gym and that all members would benefit.
I know you're on a mission: you want to denounce everything that has gone on in education in the last 25 to 30 years specifically in regard to teaching and learning. You are worried that hardly anyone knows their 12 times table or can recite an iconic poem like The Charge of the Light Brigade.
It sounds like a tall order but you are determined to reject the received wisdom about effective pedagogy from left-wing educationalists like the former Birmingham Chief Education Officer, Tim Brighouse. You might remember him; he was a 1980's maverick who implemented fresh strategies for effective teaching and classroom management, thereby inspiring a generation of future teachers/head teachers.
Clearly you, as an education secretary, are not one of them.
39 laptops have been stolen from offices in Parliament over the past year, an MP has discovered.
Harriett Baldwin (Con West Worcestershire) made inquiries after two laptops were stolen from her locked office on the Parliamentary estate during the Jubilee break.
Speaking in the Commons, she called for a debate on how MPs could make their offices secure.
A bit more detail from our coverage of the recent hearing of the Commons Transport Committee:
Motor industry executives told the Committee that the Chancellor had set back attempts to develop and sell low-emission vehicles in the March Budget.
Employees who receive company cars are charged a benefit-in-kind tax, on the basis that the vehicle is effectively part of their income. For vehicles with the highest emissions, the tax rate is 35 per cent of the value of the vehicle each year.
Have you ever thought about getting involved in local politics - but decided it's not for you?
If so, MPs want to find out why - and how things could be changed to encourage more people to get involved.
The Communities and Local Government Committee at the House of Commons is inviting anyone who has considered standing to become a councillor to get in touch.
That includes people who actually did stand in local elections, including sitting councillors, as well as anyone who chose not to.
Gordon Brown would have told the plotters who forced Tony Blair to quit to stop their rebellion - if he had known about it, he has told the Leveson inquiry.
The former Prime Minister insisted he would have told Black Country MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) to have stopped the plot, if only Mr Watson had told him what was going on.
Mr Watson was the most high-profile Labour politician to sign a letter in 2006 demanding Mr Blair set a date for his resignation. Labour had fought the 2005 general election on the basis that Mr Blair would serve a full third term in office.
Boris Johnson knows exactly when he decided he was a Tory. It was when he worked as a local newspaper reporter "in a place called Wolverhampton".
Asked by the New York Times whether he remembered the moment he knew that you was a Conservative, he revealed: "When I was a 22- or 23-year-old reporter in a place called Wolverhampton. I got impatient with some of the stuff I saw going on about damp and mold, about who's ultimately responsible for improving the ventilation in people's houses.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that talks of the Queen or Prince William seem to make everyone rather giddy with excitement as if they're in a trance.
In a court of law they'd be guilty.
More developments in the police's controversial business partnership plans. We report in today's Post that the largest security firm, G4S, and outsourcing specialists Capita are among the firms competing to become partners with West Midlands and Surrey Police.
The forces have published the names of six bidders which have been selected to move on to the next stage of the tendering process in the partnership programme, which critics describe as privatisation.
Some of the bids come from individual businesses while others involve a number of firms working together in consortia.
West Midlands Police is arguing that the need to make savings is one of the reasons it is pursuing a "Business Partnership Programme" to bring in private sector partners (see this blog by PC Richard Stanley for another perspective on the debate).
The force states on its website: "The force is facing a funding gap of more than £126m over the current spending review (CSR) period and recognises there will considerable challenges ahead. As a result the force is exploring every possible option in order to deliver the most cost efficient and effective service it can."
The issue also came up in a live chat the force has been holding today to explain the process, described by critics as "privatisation", to the public.
MPs will tomorrow, Tuesday, decide whether to refer News International executives - possibly including Rupert and James Murdoch - to the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges for "Contempt of Parliament".
The motion has been tabled by John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on behalf of the committee.
But Black Country MP Tom Watson, the Committee's most high profile member, may be absent - as he is due to give evidence to Lord Leveson's inquiry into the media tomorrow afternoon.
West Midlands Police may have delayed plans to agree a "business partnership" with the private sector - what critics called privatisation - but it certainly hasn't abandoned them.
Trade Union Unite has issued a statement welcoming the delay, saying: "Police privatisation is on hold but it's absolutely crucial that those who care about public services keep up the pressure to kill off these plans for good."
But Chris Sims, the force's chief constable, has sent a paper to West Midlands Police Authority making it clear that he intends to carry on with the proposals, that the force has already appointed no fewer than three firms as consultants to help it work on the plans, and that it still expects to spend £1.5 million on the procurement process alone - down from the original estimated cost of £2 million.
West Midlands Police has also launched a publicity drive on its website, designed to reassure the public that police forces will not be "privatised" our outsourced.
My students have just completed a critical assessment of Birmingham Big City Plan. This forms part of a module called Policy and Plans and the challenge was to look critically at real live plans and assess whether they were effective or, as Baldrick would say, cunning plans. At the heart of the Big City Plan lies a vision to reposition Birmingham as a global city. This resonates with the current growth agenda pursued by the government and the creation of the Birmingham and Greater Solihull and Black Country Local Enterprise partnerships provide delivery vehicles to help achieve this. However, in all this talking and planning for economic growth, investment and regeneration one word is conspicuous by its absence; nature.
The debate over an elected mayor for Birmingham is not over, as far as the idea's supporters are concerned.
Proposals for elected mayors were defeated in nine out of the ten cities which held referendums on May 3. In Birmingham, 57.8 per cent of voters opposed a mayor with 42.2 per cent in favour, while 63.6 per cent voted against the idea in Coventry with just 36.4 per cent in favour.
But supporters of change insist local government in cities like Birmingham cannot continue as it is.
As we report in today's Birmingham Post, the city's "yes" campaign is to hold a meeting next month on the way forward. They hope to attract politicians, business leaders and other members of the public. A date has yet to be confirmed.
An interesting article in today's Guardian says that two thirds of voters don't want elected mayors. It states: "The prime minister started the week by urging Britain's big cities to 'join the race' by creating a mayoralty through referendums set for 3 May, but a new Guardian/ICM poll suggests that David Cameron could fall at the starting line in these local ballots."
The reference to the Prime Minister follows a speech he delivered in Bristol on Monday, when he said: "I passionately want those cities - from right here in Bristol to Birmingham . . . to give a resounding, emphatic 'yes' next week." The Prime Minister added: "If you want your local champion speaking to the heart of government, banging their fist on the table for Birmingham, or Bristol or Leeds - get out and vote yes."
But I'd take the ICM poll with a small pinch of salt. Looking at the details (see table 10), it appears that a grand total of 308 people in the Midlands - east and west - were asked their opinion about a mayor. It's true that 64 per cent said they didn't want one, but how many of those came from Shrewsbury, Leicester or Stourbridge, and how many came from Birmingham or Coventry - two cities where referendums are taking place - is unclear.
A leading planning academic at Borsetshire City University has expressed grave concerns over the planning processes used to assess the Mega Dairy proposal at Home Farm by Borsetshire Land by Brian Aldridge.
"The proposal clearly has not followed the proper legal channels opening up the way for a legal challenge to the local government ombudsman whatever the ultimate planning decision. This would result in considerable legal fees against the council at a time of unprecedented cutbacks in council spending".
Labour mayoral hopeful Sion Simon has insisted that sitting MPs Liam Byrne and Gisela Stuart should be allowed to put themselves forward as rival potential candidates - but perhaps they should be asked to pay the costs of any by-election in their constituencies.
The full text of Mr Simon's comments, in an article written by him and published in today's Birmingham Post, is below.
Mr Simon is the former MP for Birmingham Erdington who stood down before the last election to concentrate on his campaign to become Birmingham's first directly-elected mayor. His first hurdle - if the city does vote yes to creating a mayor, in the referendum on May 3 - is to win the Labour nomination against rivals Liam Byrne and Gisela Stuart, who are the sitting MPs for Birmingham Hodge Hill and Birmingham Edgbaston respectively.
The battle appeared to be won when it emerged some senior Labour figures, reportedly including Harriet Harman, the Deputy Leader, were calling for sitting MPs to be banned from standing as mayors or police commissioners.
I saw a silent, solemn Church procession going by yesterday heading towards the local church on my road. It was a re-enactment of the crucifixion scene with men dressed as Roman centurions and others carrying a large wooden cross.
It got me thinking...