Archives for category: Birmingham

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 22nd August 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

This meeting will discuss points 4-10 of the notes circulated by John Nightingale earlier this month – arising from the ‘The Population Issue in Context’ a paper presented at the June meeting.

Those present will prioritise the points they wish to address in the time available.

Some time will be allowed to consider other topics, such as current developments in UK politics, and the relevance of China to the UK’s future (Andrew Lydon to speak on this).

A round table discussion 

All welcome. 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire






Birmingham City Council is now to begin the process of transferring 167 staff from Capita in-house together with the return of 147 council staff whose secondments have come to an end.

Is this part of a wider movement away from privatisation? The FT reported (9.2.18) that in 2017 according to the Association for Public Sector Excellence – around a third of Conservative local authorities, and 42 per cent of Labour councils, took services back in-house.

Expensive and less efficient?

In the first six years of the contract 2006, BusinessLive reports, Capita was paid £6 billion, according to website Diginomica and in 2011 it attempted to offshore roles to India in a decision that was later reversed at an extra cost of £1m a year to the council.(BL link no longer active, see Chamberlain Files)

Birmingham City Council’s call centre was taken inhouse at the end of 2014, saving £4 million a year and proving more popular with customers. Capita had been paid according to volume of calls rather than quality of service – a frustrated repeat caller was worth more than an instantly satisfied customer. It had also been heavily criticised over poor service, soaring costs and poor communication with council service departments.

Professor David Bailey has been a long-term critic of the contract. One of his major charges was that the contract lacked transparency about its cost implications:

“The gross profits figure of £15m is a significant understatement of the true ‘value extraction’ by Capita Group as a whole in 2015, which was over £20m on my back-of-a-spreadsheet calculation, because Service Birmingham bought tens of millions of pounds of ‘stuff’ from other Capita group companies, all of which no doubt were making significant profits”.

He paid tribute to the Birmingham Post: “The editors have allowed those of us critical of the SBJV significant space to examine the latter over several years through blogs and columns. Business editor Graeme Brown has doggedly dug out financial statements and highlighted the ongoing level of profits at SBJV while public affairs editor Neil Elkes has returned to the issue repeatedly. The paper’s journalists have, I feel, played a significant role in terms of local democratic scrutiny. Well done to them”.

Since outsourcing ended, costs have been slashed and the customer satisfaction rate has risen from 49% to 69%. The costs are set to further reduce by an estimated £1 million a year by 2020 as more information and services are made available online via the council’s website or smart phone apps.





Last year Birmingham Live reported that construction had started on the Icknield Port Loop scheme and the first homes were scheduled to be ready for occupation in Spring 2019.

James Lazarus, Head of Property Development and of the joint venture at the Canal & River Trust, commented that more people will be encouraged to use the city’s canals and tow-paths to commute to and from work and travel to the city centre; he earlier wrote that C&RT is “aware of the potential to run a taxi service and provision is being made in the plans to facilitate this”.(Email to chair of the  Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA), September 25, 2017). Water buses or taxis are a popular feature in 22 of those British cities and large towns blessed with central waterways.

The CBOA had pointed out that canal transport should be used for bringing in construction materials for the Icknield Port development project and the first to see the advantages of canal transport with its environmental credentials were Derbyshire’s Talbot Farm Landscapes, based in Hilton.

The company had started work on a £1.5m contract for landscape construction on a the 1,150-home Icknield development and over 5,500 shrubs and plants had to be delivered to site for the first houses built in the centre of the loop of the original Old Main Line canal at Icknield Port.

The barge’s skipper, Richard Horne, a member of the CBOA, said: “This is not just a first for a landscaping company but also for the commercial barge. Their usual cargo would be coal, aggregates or steel, not perishable products like plants or shrubs.”

An extending boom fork lift truck loaded the materials on to the narrow boat Arundel at Stenson marina wharf which travelled along the Trent and Mersey, joining the Coventry Canal. It then went on to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal before joining the Birmingham Navigation Main Line and making its way to Port Loop arriving on Sunday, ready for the scheduled unloading on Monday morning.

Professor Rex Harris (University of Birmingham), advocates using a zero-emission hydrogen powered water-bus to provide a city-centre service for Urban Splash’s sustainable residential development at Icknield Port, adding:

“One of the most energy efficient means of moving goods is by canal and the threats of global warming and oil depletion are resulting in a resurgence of interest in this means of transportation.” 

More detailed reports may be read here:


The environmental advantages of carrying freight on the country’s inland waterways are set out in the 2019 Gosling report.







On 10th August 2019 at 1pm in St. Francis Church in Bournville we welcome back the ever popular concert by the students of the Birmingham International Music Academy.

The Birmingham International Music Academy offers this 2 week course to help young international musicians to improve their technique whilst experiencing British culture. A group of talented musicians, aged 9-21, will travel to the UK from across China to bring a vibrant and exciting programme which combines the work of western classical composers such as Beethoven and Chopin with Far East traditional tunes.

As well as performances of piano, violin and voice, this is also a rare opportunity to hear the Chinese ‘Zheng’ a 21 string traditional instrument with an 800 years history. A bucket collection will be made after the concert, which will last 60 minutes, and the proceeds will be donated to ‘The Friends of Bournville Carillon’.

Heritage Open Day Saturday 14th September 2019. 10am – 4pm

Taster Carillon Tours can be booked online by following the link: bournville-heritage-open-day-2019

You will also be able to visit The Coach House (also known as the George Cadbury Carillon School) at 140, Linden Road B30 1LB. This building houses the practice clavier (the instrument used to strike the carillon bells). Visitors will be able to have a turn at playing it.





West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 25th July, 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

At this meeting some of the questions raised in the June session, ‘The Population Issue in Context’, will be explored more fully.

The chair on 27 June, Hazel Clawley, listed points to revisit and circulated the list for other members to add their questions and ideas.

The round table discussion will be in two parts, one chaired by Hazel Clawley and one by John Nightingale

All welcome.

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire





Wearing her BFOE ‘chief fixer, troubleshooter, painter, drain unblocker, gofer and dogsbody’ hat – after a 16 year stint with Warehouse tenant Localise WM – Karen Leach writes

Recent visitors to Birmingham Friends of the Earth Warehouse notice that it is looking pretty fine as we have now managed to complete the last major renovation stage: a refurbishment of the ‘Top Office.’ It has a much better workspace and we owe a big debt of thanks to many volunteers.

We’re just finishing refurbishment of the last room, suitable as an office for two people or a therapy room if anyone is interested in joining the Warehouse as a tenant.

Ethical retail row along the ground floor

Sprocket Cycles has a variety of new and used bikes for sale, including mountain bikes, BMX, road bikes, fixed gear and single speed, city and touring bikes, and children’s bikes. Sprocket specialises in Dawes bikes, but has other brands in stock too. Its website says: “We will shortly be stocking Frog children’s bikes ( We have a wide selection of tools and components to help you keep your bike on the road”. For opening times and directions click here.

The Warehouse Cafe is back up and running as a worker co-operative. We selected this operator because they proposed not only a quality vegetarian cafe but also a brilliant programme of the sorts of activist events and arts space that this building should be all about, with more of a ‘cafe bar’ feel in the evenings. The new team are now delivering on this promise – please come and check out the cosier atmosphere, the food, the beers and wines, the coffee, the radical bookshop, the stunning vegan baking, the workshops and the talks. It won’t disappoint you. Read on here.

Another exciting new tenant is Well Rooted Wholefoods CIC – a new vegetarian and vegan wholefood shop in the old reception which donates a portion of profits to existing food based charities in Birmingham. Rachael and Susan stock a range of wholefoods, household cleaners, snacks and tinned goods, sourced ethically. They are also keeping Warehouse staff and tenants well supplied with flapjacks and are open Tues-Sat 10am – 5pm. More information here.

Good ‘accessibility’ news: a lift has been installed so that everyone can now visit both floors of the Warehouse.







BirminghamLive, the digital channel of the Birmingham Mail, presented news about one prospective candidate, Neena Gill, in February, briefly noting that activists in the region are involved in selecting their party’s candidate, while voters take part in the election of the mayor. On 14th June, the Chamberlain Files asked “Who will face Mr Street on 7 May 2020?”  After referring to other candidates it notes an early endorsement of Mr Byrne from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, saying that this came as a surprise to many.

In the Birmingham Post David Bailey and John Clancy examine more closely the process by which the leadership of ‘by far the biggest Mayoral Combined Authority in the country’ is elected. The headline:


“It has to be done right. It also has to be a break from the past in the party in relation to selections: specifically away from discredited, old-school, machine politics”.

Buttons pressed, and levers pulled from afar, especially from outside the region must be consigned to the dustbin. We all know this has had far too ready a presence in the West Midlands over the years.

Candidates from all parts of Labour’s very broad church party should obviously be welcome. M.P.s and former ministers should quite rightly be interested. It is not, however, a pre-requisite and some would see it as a hindrance.

But let’s be clear: it’s probably best not to call in apparent national top-of-the-party ‘endorsements’ when there is a membership-wide ballot to choose a Labour nomination. That feels to us very much like a blast from the past. It can also, more importantly, be misinterpreted.

Liam has strong experience, a clear record, and a well-known history – without necessarily having to call into aid London big guns.

Do other candidates without London political bubble experience, but who are just as strong and able really have to battle with big name national endorsements? They can’t compete almost by dint of being so local. And, for the record, neither of us is seeking this nomination.

This could and should be one of the most open, most fair selections in the party in this region for a very long time, and with a wide range of highly able candidates. This will hopefully set a strong precedent across the party. Let’s keep it open and local for as long as possible.

As a link to the article was not found, read it in full here.





Evac+Chair International  has been manufacturing in Sparkhill, since 1985, constructing evacuation chairs for stairway descent during an emergency.

The Sparkhill company has 43 employees and Evac+Chair has also expanded nationally and internationally, building a worldwide distribution network.

It is recommended that high-rise buildings have temporary places of refuge in each stairwell and evacuation chairs so that elderly people and those with disabilities or mobility difficulties can be safely removed if fire breaks out.

Evac+Chair sells to large and small venues, corporations, residential buildings, hotels, sports stadia, hospitals, outdoor clothing and equipment retailers, office buildings, schools, assisted living facilities, residential and commercial high-rise buildings.

Storage lockers used in a sports stadium 

Its customers include the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Cotswold Outdoors and Bristol Water.

Everton football club, which has future plans to relocate to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the Liverpool waterfront, has invested in four 300H Evac+Chairs evacuation chairs, bringing the total number of evacuation chairs up to 16 to make the stadium fully compliant.

Royal Caribbean takes safety very seriously and is now equipping their vessels with the Evac+Chair Power 800 (above, centre), so they are ready for any eventuality.

Exhibiting at the NEC’s annual Health & Safety Events, Evac+Chair demonstrations attract large crowds and in 2015 the company won an award for ‘Most Interactive Stand’.

First published on West Midlands Producers







Birmingham Jubilee Debt Campaign – Fair Tax Week 2019: Tax for the Common Good 

Meeting: Wed. July 10th, 7 till 8.30 pm, Bertha Wright room, Carrs Lane Church, B4 7SX

The Birmingham Jubilee Debt Campaign is part of the national Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is calling for an end to the scandal of poor countries paying money to the rich world and 100% cancellation of unpayable and unfair poor country debts. See the national Jubilee Debt Campaign website for more details.






Dr Alex Ashman, of National Health Action, draws attention to a Health Service Journal article. It reports that University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, which provides medical services across South Birmingham, East Birmingham, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Tamworth and South Staffordshire, has entered into talks with Babylon Health, owner of the GP at Hand app, currently used in Rwanda and London.

The app’s artificial intelligence is intended to reduce footfall within the Trust’s A&E Department by performing triage – the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties.

The talks are said to be exploring the possibility of using the apps’ video software to provide virtual outpatient appointments. Dr Ashman and many of his colleagues believe that use of the GP at Hand app poses a risk to patient safety and the integrity of general practice.

 According to some of Babylon’s own doctors, the chatbot’s advice is often wrong

In December last year, Forbes magazine – though describing the NHS’s motivations to save money and produce better health outcomes for patients as clear and noble – reported a problem. According to some of Babylon’s own doctors, the bot’s advice was often wrong. To prove their point, the doctors carried out an audit on their own initiative, according to two insiders who asked not to be named for fear of legal repercussions.

Forbes cartoon

They found that around 10% to 15% of the chatbot’s 100 most frequently suggested outcomes, such as a chest infection, either missed warning signs of a more serious condition like cancer or sepsis or were just flat-out wrong.

Hamish Fraser, a Brown University biomedical informatics professor also disputed Babylon’s assertions in a recent article in The Lancet. He points out that Babylon’s software had answered only 15 of the 50 exam problems and was allowed to give three answers to each question. “When doctors do this test, you get one right answer,” he says.

Users can choose to subscribe to a monthly fee and gain unlimited virtual access to GPs or opt for a pay-as-you-go model. Read more here.

Patients who use GP at Hand leave their current practices in order to register with the app and 85% of the current apps users are aged between 20 and 39 years of age Practices across London using this service have less funding for the care of more costly patients as the money brought by younger healthier people is used to provide care to the elderly, those who are disabled and those who have complex needs.  As younger patients who use GP at Hand leave their current practices in order to register with the app.

Pulse Today reports that this CCG has had to be bailed out by neighbouring London CCGs

This was done in order to avoid the closure of local services, according to the Health Service Journal, as people transferred registration from other north west London CCGs to Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which has seen the number of patients registered with the app soar to 51,000.

Dr Seth Dassanayake – who chairs the Local Medical Committee in Hammersmith and Fulham – has described delays to Ipsos Mori’s impact assessment and the long wait for an up-to-date Care Quality Commission rating for the service as ‘irresponsible’ adding that he was ‘uncomfortable’ about the level of information to support the video consultation service. The local MP Andy Slaughter has called for a Select Committee investigation into the app – a call which has now been echoed by the local council in a letter to the Guardian.

NHS England reversed its earlier decision to block Babylon Health

In February the Health Service Journal reported that Babylon’s remote video consultation service in Birmingham will be expanded to Birmingham after NHS England reversed its decision to block it, though – as GP online reports – an independent report into the safety of the app and its effects upon general practice still has not been released  – and Its artificial intelligence has been criticised by clinicians and in peer reviewed research published in the Lancet.

Dr Ashman adds that Birmingham and Solihull CCG and GPs across Birmingham have made it clear that they do not want GP at Hand to be rolled out to the city. BMA GP committee chair Richard Vautrey called the announcement “incredibly disappointing” and “premature.”