Birmingham has "turned a corner" in its ability to lobby Government Ministers and top civil servants since the city council opened a full time London office, it was claimed yesterday.

Birmingham W1, a prestige address in Piccadilly, has for the first time enabled the local authority and business organisations effectively to influence movers and shakers in the corridors of power, according to council policy executive Tony Smith.

Mr Smith, who divides his working week between Birmingham and the London office, said it was important to present a coherent and wellargued case to Government on key issues such as the rebuilding of New Street Station and the relocation of civil service departments from London.

This could not be done properly without a base in the capital.

He told a scrutiny inquiry: "In the past there has been a certain amount of competition for the agenda among all the different business organisations and the council.

"We need to present a united front if we are going to be successful."

The working of the London office is being monitored by a team of council strategic directors chaired by acting chief executive Stephen Hughes. Council leader Mike Whitby is providing political input into the team.

Events held since the office opened in April include a briefing session for business leaders, Birmingham and West Midlands MPs, MEPs and members of the House of Lords - the first cross-party meeting of its kind.

The London office was influential in securing a meeting between Coun Whitby and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, to discuss ways in which Birmingham could benefit from the Olympic Games in 2012.

Two meetings between Coun Whitby and the Prime Minister have also been organised.

Mr Smith added: "There has always been a lot of activity with Birmingham trying to influence Government but it has not always been very well co-ordinated. We haven't made good use of our MPs and Lords.

"It is not just about having an office, a physical space, it is about co-ordination, setting priorities, getting the message across and my ability to get out there and network and find opportunities to influence people.

"By being in London and not having to dash up and down by train, I am able to network more effectively and get to meetings.

"We are at the beginning of what will be a steady and hopefully long-term process. To move from where we were in terms of lobbying to where we want to be, which is the best city in the country in terms of influencing the Government, is going to be a long process.

Birmingham W1 costs £190,000 a year to lease and run, with the costs divided between Marketing Birmingham and the NEC Group. Both organisations have a permanent base at the office.