The 100th anniversary of the creation of modern Birmingham should be celebrated with a fresh drive to ensure young people from every part of the city get a good education, an MP has urged.
Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) called for more support for young people from Birmingham’s poorest neighbourhoods, as he highlighted the Birmingham Bill approved by the House of Commons in 1910.
It added Aston, Erdington, Handsworth, Kings Norton, Northfield and Yardley to the official city limits - despite strong opposition from neighbouring authorities.
One MP said at the time that it made Birmingham “the second city in the Empire”.
But the Government of 100 years ago backed the massive expansion of Birmingham on the grounds that a larger and stronger city would be able to cut poverty.
Speaking at the University of Birmingham, Mr Byrne said the city still needed to grow stronger and reduce poverty, and could do so by ensuring children from every neighbourhood received a good education.
He said: “My constituency is in the bottom per cent of constituencies for sending children to university. Yet in my research with youngsters they taught me ‘learning a new skill’ was their number one priority.”
Young people in the less wealthy neighbourhoods often lacked self-confidence, he said.
But he said he was “delighted” that the Department for Education was pioneering a community service project in Hodge Hill, which would help young people raise their self-esteem.
The Birmingham Bill encountered strong opposition when it was debated in the Commons in 1910.
Hansard, the official record, shows that Chester MP Stephen Walsh complained: “Birmingham is making this application to rope in these areas, not because they have failed in any of the legitimate activities of local government, not because they are not keeping pace with modern requirements, but simply that she may swell her already inflated sense of importance and become the second city in the Empire.”
He added: “Where there are large areas with a distinct rural life, that life, I contend, ought to be encouraged and not to be submerged merely for the sake of swelling the ambitions of magnates in cities like Birmingham.”
But London MP John Burns, the President of the Local Government Board, insisted: “Birmingham supplies gas, water, electric light, tramways, and to a great extent drainage, not only for the whole of the area in Birmingham, but the large areas outside, and if this Bill is passed Birmingham will be able to go further and assist poorer communities out of the profits of the more profitable corporate society.
“The poorer communities will thereby derive a benefit great compared with what they have contributed during a short time.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has placed Mr Byrne in charge of a thorough review of party policy which will form the basis of Labour’s next election manifesto.
The MP has written to party members promising to listen to their views, and admitting “the public does not feel Labour is in touch with them. That is why we lost the election.”
In his message to party members, Mr Byrne said it was important the party listened to businesses, trade unions, charities and members of the public. But critics have attacked Mr Miliband after he described Labour’s policies as “a blank sheet of paper”.