Another day and yet another set of local government statistics placing Birmingham at the top of a national league table of shame – this time over the level of council tax arrears, which stands at £105 million.
Several times a week our newsroom takes calls from press officers for some lobby group or commercial interest pushing some new survey, list or official stats which – overcome with breathless excitement – they suggest Birmingham is Britain’s worst at something or other.
“Did you know that Birmingham has more broken roads than any other part of the UK?” says the press officer for a car repair firm, while another for a cold remedy suggests that Birmingham workers take more time off work sick than people in other parts of the country.
The list goes on an on.
Following a few choice questions about the evidence for such claims we either find out it is the result of an unscientific ‘survey’ – we polled 10 people in the cafe at lunchtime – or it is based on official data such as that issued by the Office for National Statistics.
These are broken down by local authority area and, as everyone should know, Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe.
Representing some one million plus people, it is streets ahead of any other – Leeds ranks second with 750,000, and local authorities in Sheffield, Manchester, Cornwall and Bradford can barely muster half Brum’s total.
So it is not surprising that Birmingham often tops league tables in the case of raw numbers – it is when we go pro-rata that a more accurate picture emerges. Birmingham’s council tax arrears on a per head rating, although still relatively high, are half those of Liverpool’s.
Meanwhile, there has been much wailing and nashing of teeth among city leaders over the battering Birmingham’s reputation has taken in recent months, with fears that people in far-flung parts of our island nation seeing the ‘Trojan Horse’ coverage believe every Brummie child is being converted to some extreme form of Islam and given lessons in bomb assembly.
Now, after months of this ongoing narrative, both Birmingham Chamber chief executive Jerry Blackett, who is not known for stepping into political debate, and council chief Mark Rogers defended the city’s tarnished reputation.
Mr Rogers said: “Enough is enough.
“We cannot allow whole communities to be pilloried for the misdemeanours of a few; nor can we stand back and allow the unwarranted re-definition of the underlying problem.”
While Trojan Horse rightly remains the focus of attention, with various reports due any day now, Birmingham has for a long time had an image problem.
And perhaps it’s about time our city marketing people use and cynically exploit Birmingham’s size to create positive headlines.
The only time this is ever done is with the drearily repeated fact that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice. So what?
Instead, Birmingham should be talking about how it has more amateur football teams (good for World Cup year), more pilates classes, more branches of Wetherspoons, more spare car parking spaces than any other local authority areas in the UK.
It could even point out that, in aggregate terms, Brummies pay more council tax than anywhere else. In Birmingham’s case, big really could be more beautiful.