Archives for posts with tag: Whitehall

Peter Madeley (Express and Star) writes, On the face of it, £392 million sounds like a fair amount of money to fire up the Midlands Engine”. This is, however, covering four years’ expenditure spread thinly across the Government-defined Midlands area which takes in the entire middle of England, stretching from The Marches close to the Welsh border to East Lincolnshire on the North Sea coast.

Sajid Javid who will be overseeing the Midlands Engine

George Morran’s first comment on this article is that without the right investment the so-called Midland Engine will soon begin to stutter and run out of steam. He suspects that for the vast majority of people in the West Midlands it hasn’t even started. He continues:

The proposals announced last week which gave the chancellor some photos opportunities are tiny in relation to the region’s needs and the cuts in public expenditure already made since 2010 and more to come.

The measures are the creation of Whitehall and their business-led agents working behind closed doors. They have absolutely no local ownership outside the political and business elites. I suspect most local councillors haven’t a clue what’s going on so what chance have voters?

Whitehall’s support for a Midlands delivery agent for its ideas goes back to the 1990s as a counter to New Labour’s aim to establish eight Regional Assemblies and Development Agencies across England outside London including the West and East Midlands. Whitehall’s motive was and is to keep control and not to allow real power to be put in the hands of those it regards as unsafe.

The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

Voters in Scotland look likely to have another chance to go independent. A counter would be to offer the nations and the English Regions equal status in a new Federal UK

And a refocused and smaller Westminster.

A significant omission

This letter was published in the Express and Star but a key paragraph (above, in bold) was omitted. George wrote again:

These measures were edited out of my original text and may have implied taking government away from the local. My intention is that powers and representative Government have to be moved from London to the Region and the local as part of a new democratically accountable settlement replacing the increasingly opaque, distant and anonymous government taking decisions about our future.

I would be grateful if you would correct the impression that was given.

 

 

 

 

“Last week’s announcement by Birmingham City Council that it was commissioning a feasibility study into whether to bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games was as surprising as it was welcome”.

sb-played-cover

So writes Steve Beauchampé, co-author of ‘Played in Birmingham’, Former International Officer of the FSA and member of Birmingham’s Euro ’96 Organising Committee.

Beauchampé notes that in general there had been little expectation of any alteration to the local authority’s previously stated position that a bid was not viable, in a period of unprecedented cuts to council services and substantially diminished central government grants. He continued:

“So what has changed?

“Several things perhaps: Chancellor George Osborne’s departure from office, which has seen his Northern Powerhouse project downgraded, or at least reconfigured as a more balanced national approach to devolution; that new Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief advisor Nick Timothy is from Birmingham, which might result in the city receiving a fairer hearing in Whitehall than was previously the case”.

The backing of the recently established West Midlands Combined Authority, as well as that of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership may well have been decisive, according to Beauchampé, who points out that, “both of these organisations are potentially able to access the sizeable funding streams necessary to develop the infrastructure improvements required to put on a high profile global event and deliver substantial economic regeneration as a consequence”. 

To secure the tacit support of central government and then the nomination of Commonwealth Games England, Birmingham must forget the notion of an ‘austerity’ Games:

“The Games, and the physical legacy they leave, must be tangible, its focal point both visible and accessible from the city centre. And whilst most of the facilities required already exist, albeit with some needing to be adapted, expanded or upgraded, several new venues and facilities will both be required and desirable (including a competition standard 50m pool, a velodrome and an athletes’ village)”.

He emphasizes that the region’s history and culture – sporting, artistic, ethnic and otherwise – should be mined and celebrated both in advance of, and during, the ten day spectacular of competition; there needs to be imagination in each aspect of how the event is conceived and delivered, and in how its benefits are to be maximised and secured afterwards. A Greater Birmingham bid needs to show how the region would advance the concept of what the Commonwealth Games can be, as successfully as London 2012 did with the Olympics.

Beauchampé reminds us that Manchester did not see staging the Commonwealth Games as the end of a process, but merely the beginning: “It’s an approach and a mindset that we too should adopt”.

Read the whole article: Bring The Games To Birmingham here: http://thebirminghampress.com/2016/10/bring-the-games-to-birmingham-2/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.playedinbritain.co.uk/authors.php

SAVE OUR BATHS!

A Jamaican correspondent – africanherbsman1967 – alerts us to a post on his wingswithme blog.

He opens:

“Remain for me.

“Not an easy decision despite Cameron’s lackluster campaign.

“David Cameron’s “we’re all doomed” led Remain campaign, should have emphasised that the UK will survive whether in or out of the EU; but would benefit and influence far more if we remain part of the EU”.

Remembering his days working in Britain, our correspondent states that the last Labour government ‘messed up the immigration strategy’ when the EU accepted former Soviet bloc nations such as Poland and Slovakia:

“They ignored the warnings of some of my former colleagues in Whitehall on the immigration impact of such regional changes. Immigration is important to any country’s development. But it has to be measured and beneficial to both host & visitors. British governments should have lobbied harder to get more EU funding to cope with the impending immigration growth.

“Some of the issues raised by the Leave campaign are of importance to all British residents. Especially immigration or – to be more specific – the density of immigration in major towns. The decade plus long increase in the number of EU migrants from Eastern Europe to especially England has been monumental, added to the numbers coming in from wartorn countries.

“This growth has impacted pressures on jobs, wages, public services in particular social housing. Many Brits have waited decades for access to social housing only to see some immigrants gain access to such homes ahead of them. Registering to a local dentist or doctor’s practice 15 years ago was a straightforward exercise. Today you are likely get turned away due to significant growth in immigration.

“Some say that by leaving the EU they’ll get their country back. But in honesty few areas of large private enterprises are owned by UK citizens or taxpayers. Whether it be real estate, manufacturing, technology or even football clubs. Those foreign investors are from the Middle East, Far East, Africa, US and yes, Eastern European. So saying no to immigrants and yes to billions in foreign investment looks a bit lopsided. We need to strike the right balance.

“I feel that remaining in the EU will allow the UK to sustain such foreign investment as foreign investors prefer using the City of London as their financial hub for EU business.

“As a former civil servant I have collaborated with hundreds of public and private sector bodies across the EU for nearly 14 years. I saw first-hand where such collaborations benefited the UK on issues such as reducing bureaucracy, customs reform, national security, anti narcotics, crime & policing, health, information technology, customer services and other front-line services. And on issues such as human rights, privacy laws and worker’s rights, thank heavens we have had the EU to counter some of those policies devised by Tory and Labour governments.

“But I accept the EU project must do better for the UK.

“Remain.

“Just”.

Read the full text here: https://wingswithme.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/brexit-or-remain-dont-panic/

 

 

 

bob kerslakeThe author of a recent ‘independent’ government report, Sir Bob Kerslake, is the first accountant to lead the civil service and works with Mr Pickles as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

They appear to forget that many of the city’s problems – including an under-funded children’s services department and lack of good training, care and education for its less privileged youngsters – date from the time the city was under Conservative-Liberal Democrat control.

Both administrations have invested in ‘iconic’ city centre development, whilst neglecting the areas where those on below average incomes live.

Today’s prime example of the failure of this strategy is that the Library of Birmingham is to reduce its hours significantly and a hundred more jobs will go. Brian Gambles, the director, has resigned. The council borrowed to fund this icon and now has to pay £12m annual debt servicing charges.

Another icon, the NEC exhibition centre, is on sale — so far without any takers.

german market

As the city is congested by the German Christmas market, drawing crowds from afar to buy over-priced trivia, councillors are reading this government-commissioned review of the council’s “governance and capabilities”, and its verdict that it showed a “dysfunctional” management, failing its poorest communities and being unable to deliver the most basic services.

Grant Thornton, the city auditors, warn that the city’s heavy debt charges could leave the council unable to settle the £638m it owes to hundreds of female staff over a longstanding equal pay dispute pursued by both administrations from the early 2000s.

Kerslake has recommended setting up an “improvement panel” to oversee  Birmingham’s performance from Whitehall. The panel will report back to government next December. If insufficient change has been made, some forecast the break-up of the council . . . whatever that implies.

Time for change – at national and local level. A Green/NHAP decentralising coalition could do no worse and might well do far better !

As the West Midlands Centre for Local Government closes, John Polychronakis (Chief Executive of Dudley MBC) announces that 14 councils have set up a new West Midlands Local Government Association (WMLGA), which will meet annually, Sir Albert Bore advocates city government and the Shadow Chancellor wants to see more devolution to the region.

Paul Dale reminds us that the council’s local revenue-raising powers, through the council tax, still contribute only 10% of total spending and the coalition government is moving very slowly towards “relinquishing tiny morsels of control by establishing City Deals and the Local Growth Fund through Local Enterprise Partnerships”. He adds:

“There is another driver behind the move to devolve. It is clearer than ever that the political process in this country is badly damaged. More and more people – particularly younger people – are disengaged, feel powerless to influence the decisions of government and local councils, and regard voting at elections as a waste of time”.

phil davisCllr Philip Davis (Campaign for the English Regions) notes that, ”London powers on as the only English region with regional government!”

He supports pragmatic “city-deals” and alliances of councils that agree to work closely on strategic planning and regeneration under a ‘combined authority’ badge, which are – at present – the only game in town, though ultimately a poor substitute for properly empowered regional councils.

CfER advocates a return to a full regional forum that could address the real economic and social needs of the region and speak to central government.

One of his colleagues, George Morran , was Director of the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities, which included responsibilities for regional planning, economic and environmental strategies for the region, the establishment of a West Midlands Regional Office in Brussels and the first UK regional link with Japan.

A distinctly West Midlands approach

George Morran -1Seeing local authorities as being too large to be local and too small to be regional, George came to the conclusion that developing the region’s voice and capacity to address regional challenges requires democratically elected regional government. He points out that city government will not be inclusive and deliver the synergies from linking urban and rural.

Later experience working as a regions consultant with Localise West Midlands and the Campaign for the English Regions convinced him that far more radical change and constitutional reform is needed if sub-national government in England is to deal effectively with regional issues and connect to the local. George warns:

“Without a downsizing and refocusing Westminster and moving local government far more closer to local communities we will continue to be governed by the political, business and media elite based in and around Westminster. This is well illustrated by responses to the recent and current flood emergencies being directed by COBRA! and a host of agencies”.

unlock democracy logoThe forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence and the 2015 General Election provides opportunities for CFER to develop a distinctly West Midlands approach, committed to seeking a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands Region and working with the national and local arms of Unlock Democracy and Futures Network West Midlands to find a way forward.

futures network wm

George hopes that the Unlock Democracy/CfER event will look at the wider issue of genuine devolution to each appropriate level of government – from parish to region. This means Westminster and Whitehall have to change as well. He adds:

“The region needs a more strategic, coherent and inclusive approach to bringing political and economic power much closer to people in England and make the UK and all its constituent parts more inclusive and stronger”.

With the national constitutional campaign Unlock Democracy, George Morran and Phil Davis are organising an event which will draw attention to this democratic deficit – probably to be held in June/July