The public was never consulted about the Capita contract

Even at City Council level, the Council’s corporate activities are protected from public scrutiny. Birmingham’s citizens were never consulted about the huge contract that was handed out to Capita (Service Birmingham). See Alan Clawley’s post in the Birmingham Press ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.


An order authorising the Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) was made in July 2005. Government approval was given on 16 February 2012 for the extension, a new fleet of trams and a new depot at Wednesbury; the sanctioned sum is £128m.

Steve Beauchampé earlier reflected at length on the decision-making process in the Birmingham Press. He made some valid points about the Metro extension in a Stirrer article and at the public consultation in 2011 but “they were essentially waived away as being out of date as Metro was the future”.

Beauchampé’s points summarised – readers, judge for yourselves:

  • When run on public streets trams can quickly become a disruptive transport system, one that displaces buses, a more popular and flexible alternative
  • With their rails and overhead mechanics . . . any breakdown or accident, repairs to the system’s infrastructure, road works can force services to be delayed, curtailed and cancelled.
  • Unlike buses, trams cannot be easily and quickly re-routed to account for changed passenger requirements, new roads or road re-alignments… in fact, the very reasons why trams were phased out of Britain’s towns and cities (including Birmingham in 1953) and replaced by buses in the first place.

£42.4 million of public money will be spent extending the Midland Metro from New Street Station to Centenary Square – a 5-15 minute walk, depending on New Street departure point and the walker’s fitness level.

Beauchampé describes the displacement of buses to the city outskirts, the damage to the retailers in the area “leaving the once thriving shopping environment of Corporation Street and Upper Bull Street a shadow of its former self.”

metro tracks

Why then has there been so little public outcry at the downgrading of the bus services?

“Partly because those most affected by the changes primarily consist of the groups within society that have almost no voice, and carry no influence; the elderly, the poor, migrants, students, the unwaged and the low waged. They are a captive market, people for whom switching to cars is not an option, and the decades-long annual increase in bus fares demonstrates that transport bosses realise this”.

“To the city’s politicians and professional media, most of whom rarely, if ever, use these bus routes (cars, taxis and trains being so much more tolerable) the effects are probably imperceptible. Yet the consequences for those passengers who do are very real. Sometimes the extra walking may amount to just a few minutes (albeit in both directions), but when it is wet, cold, dark, when you’re running late, weighed down with bags, coping with young children, elderly, infirm or disabled, these effects matter.

“The bus companies, primarily National Express, which owns Travel West Midlands and (crucially) operates Midland Metro, are not bothered. Passengers must still travel so the company doesn’t lose out fares wise, while removing buses from the core of the city centre allows their vehicles to turn around quicker (i.e. they are operating a shorter route) – far easier for passengers to come to them than that they go to the passengers.

“But the business and marketing community (and thus those councillors in the vanguard of the ‘Birmingham is open for business’ mentality) adore it; Metro is photogenic, it swishes along in a very modern, continental kind of way making a most pleasing sound. Oh, and Manchester’s got one.

“Metro’s champions see it as the catalyst for coaxing commuters from their cars, although as we shall explain this requires a far bigger project than mere city centre line extensions. Finally, there is the social engineering aspect: Metro is often viewed as an upmarket mode of travel and some of its proponents imagine/hope that those cruddy people (see list above) won’t use it . . .

“As right now, every extra metre of track that is laid takes us in entirely the wrong direction of travel”.

Beauchampé might agree with Monbiot – paraphrased: “When a council-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and . . . public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?”

Links to relevant analyses: in the FT, sham consultations by Anna Minton (Royal Commission Fellow, Built Environment) and in the Guardian by award-winning journalist George Monbiot. Other information: The Midland Metro (Birmingham City Centre Extension, etc.) Order 2005