It sometimes takes a politician who has been around for a long time to put events into perspective. We should be grateful to Birmingham Tory councillor Len Clark for gently reminding us that, however many fancy partnership arrangements are foisted on to local government by Whitehall, they don’t seem to make much difference where it matters.
Coun Clark, whose council experience goes back to the 1970s, will not have made himself popular by asking what is the point of BeBirmingham – the city strategic partnership consisting of the council, public bodies including health trusts and the police, the universities and business representatives.
But he is right to raise questions. BeBirmingham is yet another attempt to encourage a joint approach by public and private bodies, the so-called joined-up thinking loved by government and officialdom. All of the evidence is that, despite the plethora of initiatives and vast amount of public money spent on job creation and training in Birmingham since 1997, unemployment remains stubbornly high, poverty is as bad if not worse than any UK city and the academic or vocational record of most school leavers is simply not good enough.
To borrow another buzz-phrase used by politicians, Birmingham’s roof should have been fixed while the sun was shining. Inroads into unemployment and poverty, successful job creation schemes, better training – all of this ought to have been achieved while the economy was booming.
The outlook for future employment now, in the midst of a bitter recession, is miserable indeed. The only growth industry, as Coun Clark pointed out, is among the public sector – but are these real jobs, and are they sustainable?