One of the country’s top urban thinkers has said Birmingham suffers from a lack of effective leadership and is in danger of being ignored on the world stage.
And Dermot Finch, director of the Centre for Cities thinktank, said “parochial politics” were holding the image of the city back.
Speaking at a Birmingham Forward lunch at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mr Finch said the West Midlands needed a radical rebranding – including adopting a regional name like ‘Greater Birmingham’ – if it wanted to catch up with the global profile rivals like Manchester had built up for themselves.
And he added this rebranding would have to include better leadership across the city. He said: “Every time I’m here, I hear mutterings about the quality of the city’s leadership. Looking from the outside, it appears less strong than in other big cities like Manchester.
"I was in Washington last week and they’d heard of [Manchester council leader] Richard Leese, and the Manchester city-region is moving forward more quickly than Birmingham’s. They’d never heard of Mike Whitby.
“I’m not just talking about Mike Whitby here. Leadership across the whole city-region is not strong enough. There’s too much tension between the local authorities, and the inability to agree a compelling brand for the city-region is just one symptom of that. Your city and the city-region need stronger leadership, across the board.”
Mr Finch was speaking about the impact of the impending recession on how cities would have to operate.
He said tough times would be coming up for cities, with cutbacks in public spending inevitable, and added not enough had been done to make sure regeneration took in whole cities, rather than just “shiny new city centres”.
And he said while he admired Birmingham’s Big City Plan, more needed to be done to address unemployment rates, lack of skills, and relatively low level of population growth.
He claimed adopting the “Greater Birmingham” name would help solve these problems, saying delivering housing, transport and job training at a region-wide level would make more sense.
“It doesn’t make sense to deliver these at the local, or national, level,” he said. “They need to be delivered by you, at the city-regional level.
“Our research shows that the seven (or eight) authorities within the Birmingham city-region should collaborate more closely together, and pool their funding, to deliver better housing, transport and job training.
“The Birmingham city-region should bite the bullet, and call itself “Greater Birmingham”. Individual brands like Dudley and Sandwell don’t mean anything in the global marketplace – nor does the “West Midlands”, which could be anywhere if you’re based in Mumbai.
“I realise this will be very unpopular in Dudley – which has a fear of being swallowed up by Birmingham, and wants to preserve its own identity. But identity is not singular. I’m from Clitheroe, Lancashire, the North West, England and the UK. Parochial politics should not exercise a veto on necessary collaboration.
“The Greater Birmingham brand should not be a threat to others like Dudley and Coventry. It’s quite simply the best brand for the whole city-region. If Greater Manchester can do it, why can’t you?”