What’s in a name? Shakespeare tells us that ”a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, suggesting that it doesn’t really matter what we call something.
But the verse has another meaning, which actually suggests that names matter rather a lot.
Juliet is lamenting that her love is named Romeo, of the Montague family – and this means, of course, that they can never be together.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here for local government and business leaders, as they continue the difficult process of finding ways to work more closely together.
Specifically, it might be time to abandon the concept of “Greater Birmingham” once and for all.
It’s a divisive phrase. One might even say antagonistic.
It would be silly if the long-sought after goal of greater unity within the West Midlands is put at risk because of hang-ups over a name.
And finding a way for councils to work together has been a goal for a long, long time.
Back in 2006, something called the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region was created, led by former MEP Simon Murphy.
What exactly it was meant to achieve was never entirely clear, but authorities apparently hoped it would lead in some way to joint decision-making.
Now, their hopes may be realised, with the potential creation of a Combined Authority. Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, says an announcement might be made by Christmas.
One of the difficulties councillors face in selling this idea to the public is the fear that it would become another layer of government with its own bureaucracy and politicians.
In fact, the Combined Authority would be made up of existing councillors and council cabinet members meeting together and making joint decisions on issues which affect them all – such as major transport projects which cross council boundaries.
Another potential obstacle is a fear that Birmingham, being much larger than other councils, would dominate the whole thing.
As Sandwell council leader Darren Cooper argues, this hasn’t stopped Black Country councils pushing for the creation of a Combined Authority.
In fact, he says the Black Country is leading the way and urging Birmingham to get a move on.
And he points out that the Black Country councils are already working together, through a joint committee – and between them, they match Birmingham’s population and economic clout (this also means they could potentially form their own combined authority without Birmingham if needed).
He’s tired of suggestions that the Black Country is holding up progress.
But he also warns that the name “Greater Birmingham” doesn’t help.
It’s not a concept that people outside Birmingham relate to, he says.
So where did the idea come from?
Manchester and its surrounding towns, and the city of Salford, have created a combined authority called Greater Manchester, so it’s tempting to assume a West Midland body must be called Greater Birmingham.
But it’s not necessarily so. Liverpool is part of a body with the unwieldy name of “Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority” – known locally as Liverpool City Region Authority.
Really, we could call our own combined authority anything we want.
It might be fair to say the local media has played a role pushing the “Greater Birmingham” name.
If so, we’re not alone, as Birmingham City Council is also keen on the idea.
Consider Birmingham Council leader Sir Albert Bore’s annual policy statement, delivered to the council in July this year.
It was titled “Forward to a Greater Birmingham”. Sir Albert referred to “the Greater Birmingham economy” and said: “I believe we can look forward to a Greater Birmingham in every sense of that phrase.”
He concluded: “A Greater Birmingham because we will work in partnership with all our neighbours and with the business community to drive growth across the city region.”
By the way, the capital “G” for “Greater” is in the text of the speech – confirming that Greater Birmingham is the name of something, not just a reference to a better Birmingham.
We also have bodies such as Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (which, incidentally, will need to be radically reformed if a combined authority is created, because its boundaries will need to match the boundaries of the new authority).
Somebody is clearly keen on the concept. And some business figures point out that the world knows the name Birmingham. In that sense, the name is an asset and it would be foolish not to make use of it.
But surely some sort of compromise can be adopted? It might be as simple as ensuring the Black Country has equal billing.
After all, is there anything wrong with the idea of a Greater Black Country And Birmingham Council?