Miliband Full of the Joys of US in the Spring Time; Voters Will Go to the Local Election Polls Next Week as Ministers Are Planning a Revolution in Local Government, Writes Political Editor Jonathan Walker in Monday's Post: Were Birmingham Promises Kept or Broken?

The Birmingham Post (England), April 29, 2006 | Go to article overview

Miliband Full of the Joys of US in the Spring Time; Voters Will Go to the Local Election Polls Next Week as Ministers Are Planning a Revolution in Local Government, Writes Political Editor Jonathan Walker in Monday's Post: Were Birmingham Promises Kept or Broken?


Byline: Jonathan Walker

David Miliband has been on an exciting trip to the United States and, like a neighbour keen to show off their holiday snaps, he wants to share his experiences with the rest of us.

Being a high-flying young politician, he has set up a blog - a diary posted on the Internet - to get his message across.

On a tour of American cities, he says, he learned their economies stretched far beyond their administrative boundaries, and that they had mayors, which was a good thing.

We should listen to Mr Miliband, because he is leading a detailed review of local government in England which could transform the way we are taxed and governed.

Local elections on May 4 will decide who runs our councils, but everything could change again in June or July.

This is when Mr Miliband, a Local Government Minister in John Prescott's department, is expected to unveil a Government White Paper on local government reform.

He has embarked on a tour of England's big cities to ask residents what it will take to turn Birmingham and Manchester into international powerhouses.

The Minister insists he will listen to what people say, and has not entered into the consultation with any preconceived ideas.

But it seems clear he believes some sort of structure bigger than a city council is needed.

After all, the big cities don't have neat, self-contained economies. Birmingham's economy is also Dudley's economy, or Coventry's.

They don't have their own transport system, or skills base, or housing market, for that matter.

And the idea that some sort of collective decision-making might be needed is already tacitly accepted.

Birmingham City Council was already talking about the "city region", involving Birmingham and its neighbours, before Mr Miliband began his consultation.

But what is not yet clear is whether the Government plans to take the idea further and create a formal body to make decisions for the "West Midlands City Region".

We've been here before. The West Midlands once had a county council, which lasted from 1974 to 1986.

But when it was abolished, the West Midlands Metropolitan County remained. In other words, it was a county without a council, and that's what we still have today.

Bringing back something similar - such as a West Midlands City Region - might seem like an obvious move.

The problem is, the West Midlands County Council was wildly unpopular.

The creation of the West Midlands county cut towns and cities off from their historic roots. Birmingham, the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, in Edgbaston, is no longer considered to be part of Warwickshire.

Wolverhampton and Walsall are no longer part of Staffordshire, while Dudley and Warley have been expelled from Worcestershire.

Can the West Midland name ever command the same affection and loyalty as the historic counties? It seems unlikely.

For example, it has been 22 years since Solihull left Warwickshire but there are plenty of organisations and individuals who give their address as "Solihull, Warwickshire".

Strictly speaking, the correct address is "Solihull, West Midlands", for better or worse (the Royal Mail says it will deliver letters to the right place as long as the correct postcode is used).

Some people, such as the Association of British Counties, want to abolish modern innovations such as the West Midlands entirely, returning to the traditional county names and boundaries. …

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Miliband Full of the Joys of US in the Spring Time; Voters Will Go to the Local Election Polls Next Week as Ministers Are Planning a Revolution in Local Government, Writes Political Editor Jonathan Walker in Monday's Post: Were Birmingham Promises Kept or Broken?
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