patrick willcocksAn admission of failure is cheerfully presented as success by Patrick Willcocks, who worked on supporting the Smart City agenda within the Council and extols expensive city centre development achieved at the expense of the periphery – the underprivileged.

Mr Willcocks, the named consultant for EUPA Consulting Ltd, currently lecturing at the University of Birmingham on Europe and structural funds, defends city development priorities set by successive councils as an actor in the ‘re-imaging’ of cities.(EUPA header)

eupa header

This exercise, within a wider context of competition between cities for investment, has fuelled speculative development, which fails to address underlying economic problems – as David Bailey notes in a forthcoming volume (Bailey et al, 2015).

The city’s chronic suburban unemployment levels, health damaging air quality, increasingly serious traffic congestion and skills shortages are blithely ignored by Mr Willcocks:

  • a November Commons Library Research Paper lists unemployment by constituency, naming Birmingham Ladywood, Perry Barr and Hodge Hill as unemployment blackspots (11-20% and falling at a lower rate);
  • in May, Birmingham was named by the World Health Organisation for breaching safety guidelines for air pollution – see data accessed via this link;
  • a few days ago, the council’s transport and economy scrutiny committee raised concerns that the already over-burdened road network could grind to a halt, exacerbated by forthcoming projects like Paradise, Curzon Street HS2 station and Arena Central;
  • in addition to the shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills , an OECD report ranked England 22nd out of 24 western countries in terms of literacy and 21st for numeracy – achieving skills in the basics are no better than that of a 10-year-old; The Mail reported in 2013 that 16% of the city’s children failed to reach the target in primary school reading tests last year.
Digbeth’s Walker Building

Digbeth’s Walker Building

On Monday, The Information Daily – in an attractively and effectively re-used Birmingham building – presented an article by Professor David Bailey (@dgbailey), taking Birmingham Council to task over city development priorities.

His account of the economic development failure of Birmingham city council over the last 30 years includes:

  • the Council’s spiralling debt problem;
  • the city centre library ‘vanity project’ – a financial noose round the city’s neck – now unable to maintain staff numbers and opening hours;
  • 42% of the much-vaunted employment at the ICC and 71% at the NIA: low paid, insecure cleaning, catering and security jobs;
  • in all – public resources diverted from critical front line services and the needs of the wider population of Birmingham.

He notes that the Kerslake report – ‘the latest manifestation’ – comments on BCC pouring cash into city centre projects while residents in poor out of town neighbourhoods are left without jobs or skills.

Bailey concludes: “As Kerslake himself notes, ‘regeneration must take place beyond the physical transformation of the city centre… the council needs to engage across the whole city, including the outer areas’ . . . It’s time for a change”.