An organisation linking community groups across Birmingham was launched last night with the importance of voting in elections among its main subjects on the agenda.

More than 600 people from local mosques, churches, trade union branches and schools attended the launch of Birmingham Citizens at The Great Hall at Birmingham University.

The organisation consists of 23 paying institutions and was set up following the success of a similar group in London which campaigned on a range of social issues.

Birmingham Citizens aims to put a series of issues on the local political agenda including creating safer neighbourhoods, setting up more activities for young people and providing affordable and decent housing. The event gave four Birmingham parliamentary candidates 90 seconds to persuade the audience to vote for their party.

Among the speakers were Clare Short, the Labour candidate for Ladywood; John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Yardley; Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative candidate for Sutton Coldfield and Salma Yaqoob, the Respect candidate for Small Heath and Sparkbrook.

Chairing the event were Bishop Derek Webley, from the New Testament Church of God, and Sister Helen Ryan, from the Sisters of Mercy.

Bishop Webley said: "The main thing is to encourage people to vote. We want people to use their democratic right to register their views.

"It is only when the community is together that we can succeed in our campaign for a range of social issues. We want to inform the political decision makers that we have a voice and we want it to be heard."

Bishop Webley said the launch of Citizens was not fixed to highlight the political views of the parties before the General Election. However, he said, people from all communities did not have a voice if they did not vote.