It is a noble aspiration to be the boldest and the best, but in Birmingham City Council’s case the hype does not always match reality.
The local authority’s leadership appears to have entered a phase where it is deemed imperative to announce supposedly major initiatives on almost a weekly basis lest anyone should think the dire economic circumstances afflicting the rest of the country are hampering progress in the global city with a local heart.
There have been claims that the £6 billion of investment planned in and around the city centre shows how Birmingham can beat the recession, even though most of that funding is public money unaffected by the slump and much was planned before the extent of the financial downturn became clear.
Last week, council leader Mike Whitby announced to general acclaim that he wanted to open a municipal bank to lend money at decent rates of interest to businesses and ordinary Birmingham families. No one could criticise this slice of motherhood and apple pie, but it has to be said after inspecting the little detailed information available that neither Coun Whitby nor anyone else at the council has any real idea how the bank will get off the ground. It is, as the marketing people would say, aspirational blue skies thinking.
Hard on the heels of the bank comes the 50-metre Olympic swimming pool, which Coun Whitby confidently assures us is to be built at a cost of £60 million on a site near to the National Indoor Arena. Actually, the press release announcing this made no mention of the cost – but such small details are, presumably, thought too boring to mention in a global city.
The council has since confirmed that it has identified only half the cost of the pool and the rest of the money will be raised through selling assets such as land, buildings and, yes, other swimming pools. This, of course, at a time when land and property prices are falling like a stone.
As for the annual running costs of a 50-metre pool, which will be significant, no estimates have been published and no provision has been made.
It is impossible to disagree with the conclusion of opposition Labour leader Sir Albert Bore that the glory of opening a world-class facility in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games has left reality drowning in a sea of spin.
The sheer enthusiasm of the council leader and his ability to believe that anything is possible can only be admired, but the premature announcement of important projects way before funding streams have been identified can only leave the council open to the allegation that it is cynically seeking short-term glory when there is no certainty that the swimming pool and municipal bank will ever exist.