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Birmingham City Council is reviewing arrangements for local democracy in the city. Ten years ago the responsibility for some local services and budgets was devolved to district committees.

brum 4From 25 February until 30 March 2015, city residents will be asked what they think works and how they want to get involved in future – for example through neighbourhood forums and parish councils.

Four public meetings are being held  for those who want to join the discussion with local councillors, council officers and community groups. Meetings  from 6-8pm, at the dates & venues below. An overview can be read here.

Click on the links below to book a place at a specific meetings.

East Birmingham

16 March – South Yardley Library, Yardley Road B25 8LT

South Birmingham

17 March – Beeches Management Centre, 76 Selly Oak Road B30 1LS

Central/West Birmingham

19 March – Yenton Primary School, Chester Road B24 OED

We are encouraging local ward committees, neighbourhood forums and organisations in sectors such as higher education, media and public affairs and business, to organise their own debates on community governance and send us their feedback.

After the consultation results have been analysed, we will publish a draft response to the Sutton Coldfield community governance petition in the summer and let residents have a final say. We will continue to work with Birmingham residents to create a flexible community governance model that can develop according to changing needs.

Some points made in their video:

For many years ‘leafy’ Edgbaston was a ‘key bellwether’ – a reliable predictor of the national election results.

After a considerable amount of social housing was built, it was no longer a safe Conservative seat.

gisela ft video

Its ‘very effective MP’, Gisela Stuart is well recognised and well respected in the constituency, approachable at surgeries and informally on the street at Harborne farmers market.

She is independent and will place the interests of constituents before the party.

Conservatives are hoping to take the seat and have selected a personable young doctor as their candidate.

gisela dr luke evans ft video

The video ends by interviewing prospective voters, including a person from Burn FM ,University of Birmingham’s Student Radio Station and a Waterworks Estate activist.

Non-subscribers who wish to see the video may register free of charge here

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An alert from the Secretary of Solihull Ratepayers Association describes the arrival of French nationals in fifteen travellers’ caravans at the council’s Monkspath Hall Road Car Park on Thursday evening.

This is no isolated occurrence; last September, the Mail reported that travellers in 27 caravans settled on a playing field in Chadwick End, Solihull, while a legal site nearby was almost empty. In January this year, travellers also invaded a car park next to Hillfield Park in Solihull.

On Tuesday the Mail reported the damage done by travellers who were ejected from a site in Solihull by police from private land at Radway Road, near Cranmore Boulevard. A gate had been smashed open, portable buildings wrecked and piles of rubbish dumped. travellers bordesley

Police and bailiffs removed travellers on Sunday from an industrial site in Garrison Street, Bordesley Green, who had been obstructing the entrance to various units, preventing deliveries by HGVs.

The Mail says that five authorised camping sites for travellers are to be created in Solihull

Council leaders have approved the creation of 31 authorised slots, to be created at five sites across the borough between 2017 and 2027. Thirteen have been earmarked for Old Damson Lane, six in Bickenhill Lane, four for Dickens Heath Road, six at Catherine-de-Barnes and two for Canal View, Salter Street.

The Travellers Times gives a detailed specification of the wide range of amenities to be provided to travellers for £90+ a week.

 

Site statistics show that many are concerned about the current wave of Islamophobia sweeping the country; we note that the week’s top post on this site (with readers from 13 foreign countries) is A message from a Muslim student in Azerbaijan.

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woolf institute logoDavid Bone is a former director of the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations at the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge. His reflection was broadcast on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire on 8th February and published in the Friend, 27 February 2015

Labels are a method of shorthand that we use to embrace a concept. They are very useful and very powerful.

However, the power of labels can also be misused and can be very dangerous. Under the Nazis in Germany we saw the word Jew come to be given extreme and negative connotations. To the German people being labelled a Jew was to be made an outcast and, ultimately, to be denied your humanity. In denying the Jews their humanity Adolf Hitler was able to legitimise the oppression and slaughter of millions of innocent human beings.

What we see today is the same process being applied by public figures and the mainstream media to the Muslim community.

Islam, a word rooted in the concept of peace – Salaam – is being persistently linked to acts of grotesque violence. It would sound farcical to talk about ‘peace terrorists’ yet we are hearing about ‘Islamic terrorists’ every minute of every day. This is deeply offensive to more than 1.7 billion Muslims across the globe and is an association that is only beneficial for Islamophobes and the depraved extremists that seek to justify their barbarism through some perverse interpretation of the faith.

This approach is only being used for Islam. When we watched the carnage in Bosnia we rightly didn’t talk about the Serbs as ‘Christianist extremists’, even though they crucified the imams and severed all but three of their fingers to represent the trinity. We didn’t because we recognised that this was not a ‘Christian’ problem. This was a problem of radical extremists hiding behind a pretence of religiosity.

The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury were never asked to account for and denounce the behaviour of those barbarians, yet we are constantly hearing calls for Muslim leaders to denounce ISIL, even after they have done so repeatedly and unreservedly.

We were all horrified to hear of the Jordanian pilot who was burned to death by ‘Islamic extremists’ – yet every established scholar of Islam across the globe, from every school of thought, agrees that such a barbaric act was wholly un-Islamic and forbidden by Shariah, which states that fire is so extreme that it is only permissible to God to use for punishment.

The impact of this on public perceptions is clear. Recently, research was publicised on terrorism in Europe. It revealed that less than half a percent of European terrorism was carried out by people who were Muslims, yet when I have asked people what their impression is, they consistently guess that it is seventy per cent or more because of the completely disproportionate coverage in the media and the emotive and bigoted language of our political leaders that promotes hatred and division.

As a community the way for us to truly combat radicalisation and extremism is to promote and ensure the mainstream understanding of the true followers of each faith.

David Bone

David Bone

The Qur’an states clearly that the sin of killing a single innocent person is equal to that of destroying the whole of humanity. It also acknowledges, in the same verses, that this is the same teaching given to Moses and Jesus uniting the Abrahamic faiths on this divine truth.

We need to work together to promote a true understanding of our own faith and that of the other faiths to build peace, understanding and a united community.

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canary wharf

Cllr John Clancy asked this question in response to the latest ambitious proposal by the city council and Local Enterprise Partnership: to create an equivalent to Canary Wharf in Snow Hill.

He pointed out that Canary Wharf is a powerful symbol of the entity that laid waste to the UK economy, leading to financial chaos, bailouts, public sector services culls – and which is still supported by taxpayers to the tune of £123bn.

As Cllr Clancy says, it is the the ‘ultimate irony’ to reward the authors of financial collapse with big construction, big property and big offices, enabling them to ’inflate the bubble’ again.

The vice-chairman of the WM New Economics Group comments: “It has taken centuries to make Frankfurt, London and Zurich what they are. Financial centres cannot be ‘replicated’ just by constructing a few fancy buildings. The people of Birmingham are tired of ‘big talk’ from a council in special measures – in all but name.

John Clancy offers another model:

digbeth street scene

“Digbeth is, to my mind, the real microcosm that deserves attention. Its development has been inspirational and can become a pattern for the rest of the city.

“Many would say it developed organically in spite of, rather than because of, the intentions of the city’s ‘powers that be’.

“It shows a real energy and creative drive. It shows what can happen when you build on the real strengths and lively energies of this young city of the 21st Century”.

The rewiring of the city’s economic life

Cllr Clancy believes this will not come from ‘the dead hand of Canary Wharf casino financial services’, but from new industries: food, tech, 3D printing, digital media and entertainment, online retail, fashion, art, jewellery, small-scale sustainable manufacturing and curated commerce – creating unique product lines not offered by other online retailers.

The talent pool for this, he adds, is more suited to this city and the training and education pathways can be prepared to support it.

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Public resources continue to be channelled to the city centre as local authority housing, education and children’s social services are neglected.

Four years ago, when market trader Carol Byrne looked around the Bull Ring Open Market (under threat at the time) and saw youngsters working there who might been amongst those who looted and broke into the city in which they live, she wondered what would happen to those unemployed young people who often don’t finish secondary education, let alone gone to University.

job centre queue brum

In January, Professor David Bailey (Aston Business School) took Birmingham Council to task over city development priorities. He cites points made in the Kerslake Report (PDF link via this page) about the huge cost of the Library of Birmingham, ‘identified as a major contribution to the Council’s spiralling debt problem’. A ‘financial noose’ has been placed round the Council’s neck by the failure of its plans to secure external sponsorship or raise enough money from land sales, which meant that it had to borrow most of the initial £188m for a building it cannot afford to run as planned.

Public resources have been diverted from providing critical social services into a city centre vanity project

Bailey referred to Kerslake’s comments on BCC pouring cash into city centre projects while residents in poor out of town neighbourhoods are left without jobs or skills, adding an overview of long term neglect of local authority housing, education and children’s social services and noting that successive blinkered leaders in Birmingham over several decades (we’d exclude Theresa Stewart) have focussed only on the glamorisation of the city centre.

The Post reports that, in a public debate on the Kerslake review of Birmingham City Council, expenditure on recurrent vanity projects was highlighted as a reason for the authority’s persistent failure to tackle the city’s high levels of deprivation and unemployment.

Professor Bailey said: “Kerslake said that many in this city do not have the skills to access the jobs created in the city centre. But it is worse than that. Over the last 25 years, we have poured a huge amount of resources into city centre glamour projects and in doing that not only ignored the outer city but diverted resources from housing, education and schools.”

ft disunited survey

The FT is publishing a series ‘Disunited Kingdom’ – but has looked no further, to date, than the relative disadvantage suffered by the well-educated young.

Carol Byrne asks a more grounded question: “When Birmingham City Centre is only for those that ‘have’ and those that ‘have not’ just stay in their ghettoes – what will become of our city that was built on trade and markets? “

She warned: “To exclude and invisibilise these marginalised groups even further will only breed more discontent and anger”. 

Next: undeterred by debt, another grandiose project is presented.

Priory Rooms entrance

‘Formulating a positive vision for our country – a Compass-Equality Trust-Fabian Society West Midlands Workshop’ is taking place on Wednesday 25th February, from 7.00 pm to 8.30 pm in the William Penn room of The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6AF.

This event is free BUT spaces are limited so please register your attendance at the following link: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/formulating-a-positive-vision-for-our-country-a-compass-equality-trust-fabian-society-west-midlands-tickets-15589683162?aff=es2&rank=3 - (Cut and paste if link does not work)

The first half of the workshop seeks to formulate a shared vision of a positive future for our country, inspired by work undertaken by Compass West Midlands convenor Michael Orton.

Over the last few months, Michael has been conducting research into socio-economic insecurity, and possible solutions to preventing this insecurity from blighting the lives of the British people. This research has involved meeting with many civil society organisations, and recently culminated in the publication of ‘Something’s Not Right: Insecurity and an Anxious Nation’- the full work can be accessed and downloaded from the Compass website here.

compass report cover 2015

Michael’s work has led him to formulate a draft statement offering a positive vision for the future: “we all have a decent basic standard of living that enables us to participate, contribute and be free to choose how to lead our life, and be able to develop our potential materially and emotionally with respect for all.

Attendees will be asked if the draft wording is something they can agree with/live with/improve upon/provide a better alternative; tt is about seeking broad consensus.

If a consensus is reached, discussion will then become about what a West Midlands network can do to achieve the vision.

The second half of the evening will be an opportunity for participants to find out more about Tax Justice West Midlands.

Set up by EWM members, Tax Justice West Midlands is involved in the Tax Dodging Bill campaign. This campaign involves more than 15 prominent organisations including Oxfam, Christian Aid, the National Union of Students, the High Pay Centre and The Equality Trust who are urging all political parties to commit to putting a bill which would prevent tax dodging through Parliament within 100 days of a new government being formed after the general election.

If you are interested in combatting tax evasion and avoidance by the wealthiest in our society, this campaign should be of great interest to you. We’ll be discussing practical actions that we can take together as part of Tax Justice West Midlands.

This should be a fascinating event, providing opportunities to network with like-minded individuals and commit to undertaking practical action to achieving a positive vision for the UK.

If you have questions about formulating a positive vision for our country – a Compass-Equality Trust- Fabian Society West Midlands Workshop, contact Michael Orton (Compass West Midlands), Tom Pratt (Equality West Midlands) and Andrew Coulson (Fabian Society)

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Reshoring (onshoring): affirming the economic viability of localised flexible manufacturing — Dr Michael Johnson (Texas A&M University

As Peter Davies, chairman of Professional Polishing said on a sister site in 2013,it is great to see that there is a new buzz word around – onshoring!”

The reshoring trend, successes and possible pinch points, systematically explored and publicised by Aston’s Professor David Bailey since 2013, is the subject of new research from EY. Readers new to the subject could also turn to Bryan Luoma for his concise overview of out-sourcing problems.

onshoring trends 13MAS in 2013

Following a link received recently, we read the cautious comments of Cathy Taylor, EY’s senior partner, who notes that: ‘the economics underpinning the off-shoring trend appear to be reversing’.

Examples of this trend in the WM region have been reported on a sister site, including Coventry’s RDM Automotive and Birmingham’s Brandauer – both reshoring and multi-skilling. As Cathy Taylor writes, reshored firms find that a ‘cluster’ in the appropriate sector will offer close proximity to key suppliers, infrastructure and a workforce with the relevant skills and we add that these are to be found in areas like Coventry and Aston/Hockley/Newtown.

Cathy Taylor reports estimates that re-shoring could add £15.3bn of GDP to the UK economy and equate to more than 315,000 jobs across the UK. The West Midlands is one of five regions that offer the greatest re-shoring potential; others named are the East Midlands, North West, South East, Yorkshire and the Humber.

She notes that while increasing wages in developing countries are eroding their labour cost advantage, other factors are leading business to choose British suppliers. These include the desire to guarantee quality, the imperative to reduce time to market and highly skilled workforces. We also note references on our sister site to a flexible approach, enabling modifications or new products ordered to be designed and processed in good time.

Ms Taylor ends by calling on government to provide the correct infrastructure framework, and to reduce the headline rate of corporation tax to the joint lowest in the G20, providing competitive relief for innovative and high tech industries.

Will this government backing materialise, or can manufacturing prosper on its own merits?

Encouraging last words from Professor Michael D. Johnson, Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Texas A&M University, briefly in the FT:

“My colleagues and I have found that importing goods from China to developed countries (for example, the US) entails numerous increased costs: transportation, inventory carrying, and production and logistics oversight. The combination of these increased costs, just-in-time manufacturing needs, and increased developing country labour rates contribute to the economic viability of localised flexible manufacturing facilities serving developed country markets”.

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empty houses headerwaitrose derelictionIn January the focus was on a neglected corner of Hall Green on the Stratford Road, an eyesore for over ten years. Six years ago, the late lamented Stirrer noted official figures: 675,000 empty homes in England, of which 288,000 had been empty for more than six months (DCLG, 2007).

Birmingham had over 11,000 privately owned empty homes – the largest number of empty properties in the country. Despite the demand for affordable housing, 1,100 of these homes had been empty for over five years.

A year ago the figure was reduced to 9,000 empty Birmingham properties

empty houseThe city council’s empty property team was set up in 2006 to bring derelict homes back into use and since then, the Mail reports, the council has successfully taken out 160 CPOs, forcibly seized 38 houses and 1835 owners have co-operated.

MEP Keith Taylor has highlighted the low number of empty dwellings being brought back into use via Empty Dwelling Management Orders:

“It’s totally scandalous to have thousands of homeless people sleeping rough when there are nearly a million empty houses at the same time. Bringing empty properties back into use is a quick win. Today’s shocking figures highlight government failures to get to grips with the issue of empty homes, and clearly illustrates that the EDMOs system is failing.”

Brought back into use

  • 2013: 18 houses
  • 2014: 17 properties
  • overall total since 2007: 108

Keith Taylor’s report will be launched in Oxford on 19th March with guest speakers Danny Dorling (Professor of Geography at Oxford University & author of ‘All that is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster’) & Anna Minton (Author of Ground Control).

https://www.facebook.com/events/1527273284219026/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

empty houses flyer

We hope that his Birmingham and Solihull colleagues will take up this cause.

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BVT estate office 2 OTL

Oak Tree Lane residents await the outcome of McCarthy & Stone’s planning application, now before Birmingham City Council. The proposal to build retirement apartments will involve demolishing the handsome former Bournville Village Trust Estate Office on Oak Tree Lane (above).

McCarthy & Stone have agreed to retain the existing building’s façade on Oak Tree Lane, as stipulated by the Bournville Village Trust, and the majority of the mature trees will be kept on the site.

BVT estate land

Its design is said to “respect surrounding roofscapes and neighbouring properties” but concern about the height of the roof ridges has been expressed by residents living near the proposed development. These are about 1.5m higher than the existing highest ridge and move about10m nearer the building to the north, Oak Tree House. The proposed structure would be overbearing and diminish the sunlight currently arriving at Oak Tree House.

A resident, who has overseen and worked to design and develop similar conversion schemes, advises that the overall proportions of the front elevation can be preserved with windows made to a smaller height and a less steep roof slope. The north elevation could then also be retained with existing roof slopes.

mccarthy & stone KHMcCarthy and Stone development in Kings Heath.

The side elevation in Firbank Close, which would also be worth retaining:

BVT estate office side fircroft close

The submitted plans can be viewed online at the council’s website, application number 2014/05572/PA. The plans are going to committee on a date yet to be confirmed. 

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Further information:

http://www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk/media-centre/regional-news/high-quality-retirement-living-accommodation-proposed-for-bournville/

http://www.mccarthyandstone-consultation.co.uk/bournville/proposals

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