Retaining local skills crucial to Midlands
Dear Editor, While we welcome your positive coverage of the report assessing the impact of migrant workers on the region's economy, we would like to clarify the position of the LSC regarding the region's skills needs and our response to this major study.

Evidence suggests there will be a need to fill one million vacancies in the labour market by 2016. These vacancies will arise partly as a result of new jobs, but overwhelmingly as a result of people leaving the workforce.

This is the key point we were seeking to make in response to the migrant labour study - we need employers in particular to understand the scale of the demographic changes taking place, and how essential it is to intensify our efforts to bring local people back into the labour market and equip them with the right skills to sustain their jobs in a modern economy.

On the specific point in relation to migrant workers, we were simply pointing out that the regional economy is under-utilising a significant number of people who have come into the region with much higher skill levels than required by the jobs they were in at the time of the study.

That risks wasting real skills and talent and, if we continue down this road, risks displacing or excluding local people who could fill those jobs. We therefore feel your headline was misleading and as such undermined the excellent, responsible coverage that appeared elsewhere in the paper.

Our strategy is to draw on all parts of the region's potential workforce, ensuring everyone has the right skills to meet employers' needs. Our work with partners, including Jobcentre Plus, on the City Strategy Pathfinder programme, is devoted to upskilling people in the most disadvantaged communities in the West Midlands, bringing those currently disengaged back into employment.

Our region is rich in economic potential. But there is a mismatch between an inadequate skills base and employers' needs.

The economic outlook is positive but substantially changed - going forward, there will be very few jobs without skills. Our future prosperity depends on raising the skills bar, creating opportunities and incentives across all groups and communities in the West Midlands.

We have already begun the work of creating a continuous process of upskilling everybody at every level to match the skills needs of a modern economy. For this critical objective to be realised, we need everyone to realise the urgency and act accordingly.
 DAVID CRAGG, Regional Director,
 Learning and Skills Council in the West Midlands

New Street project veering off the rails
Dear Editor, Henry Harvey hits the nail on the head. When Coun Whitby speaks of extra capacity at New Street, it is only about extra passenger circulation space, (which simply must, and will, be done for safety reasons), not about the fundamental inability of existing track capacity to adequately serve the needs of the West Midlands and the national rail network with Birmingham at its crossroads.

Isn't the whole bid for a redevelopment scheme dressed up as a rail improvement which the city council hopes to persuade the DfT to grant in full?

This tactic is not unknown as a means of winning Government funding for what you really want. Right now in Walsall, for instance, we have a ring road scheme under construction dressed up and funded as an "integrated transport package".

The issue of passenger circulation capacity at New Street should never have been disconnected from the issue of track capacity, and while politicians locally stamp their feet in frustration at not getting the full funding and the brownie points they want for their redevelopment scheme, the big expensive rail projects - quadrupling the tracks between Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and a congestion-busting scheme to get Cross-City and Walsall line trains under or otherwise out of New Street - don't even get a mention.

Until that happens, there will always be delays, people left milling around New Street, and a less than adequate service frequency on vital commuter routes linking local stations on the Coventry, Rugeley and Walsall, and Wolverhampton lines with Birmingham.

Shame on you, councillors, while you stay silent on this, you're letting us all down.

Meanwhile, all this suits the DfT. If the peasants are left to sweat a little longer on the Gateway Project, they should be duly grateful when the funding is granted and will feel it's job done.

Then, when track capacity is raised at a future stage, as it inevitably will be, won't the DfT be able to say: "How ungrateful is that? We gave you all you asked for, track capacity was never mentioned before, and now you're back for more. We're sorry, councillor ... how about a few longer trains instead?"
 RICHARD WORRALL, Walsall

Leading us down the path to global ruin
Dear Editor, The Prime Minister is right that it will take a fourth technological revolution, against a growing population and wider economy, to meet our obligations on carbon emissions.

Or for those who have superior knowledge to the world's leading scientists, to offer solutions to Britain's burgeoning energy crisis - both North Sea oil and world production have peaked with a predicted seven per cent annual fall, hereafter ending the days of relatively cheap fuel for good, and signalling the last days of the carbon combustion engine.

When compared to Germany, which now produces 14 per cent renewable energy as against our appalling two per cent, do we seriously believe the current generation of politicians has either the courage, the commitment or the practical leadership to achieve targets even when enshrined in legislation, upon which MPs confer a kind of fantasy sanctity, but which don't impress the general public who know that targets come and go and are usually revised downwards?

The challenge is of course far greater than high-flying words or even huge projects, such as proposed for the River Severn, because the current conventional wisdom which has prevailed for decades is that somehow markets can meet needs and deal with problems when in fact they are the main cause of  waste, inequality and environmental damage at every level.

Therefore, for politicians to rise to the Stern report and to recognise the chronic market failure that emissions represent they must cast out all the dogma upon which so many of their lives are founded and rethink all economic ideas of the role of the state, of investment, of public ownership.

Most simply won't be able to do this, even if they wanted to - and a technological revolution won't happen without the thought revolution to underpin it and to fund innovation.

Competition, privatisation, a dimwitted reliance on the private sector to meet national and international responsibilities and challenges are the shibboleths of Thatcherism, and powerful still in New Labour. As a broad rule, they tend to conspire against a common sense approach to developing and finally embracing the technology to help find renewable alternatives, and encourage selfish behaviour at a personal level.

We will need to think the unthinkable and challenge all our myths to change the way we live and prevent runaway global warming.
 BILL HAYMES, By email