Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected claims that Birmingham has been neglected while the Government lavishes funding and attention on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ of Manchester.
The Tory leader was in Birmingham and the West Midlands where the Government has come under fire after a succession of big announcements have appeared to back the North West with investment in transport, regeneration projects, devolution and jobs.
A £1 billion devolution package for Manchester agreed in November has nowhere near been matched in the West Midlands.
But Mr Cameron stated his commitment to Birmingham: “Birmingham is Britain’s second city, it is a powerhouse. The Government’s approach to Birmingham is to build on its strengths.”
He said that major regeneration projects from the investment New Street Station to backing for the Curzon Street Masterplan show the level of Government confidence in the city.
“There’s massive attention to Birmingham. If you look at Birmingham’s growth deal, there’s more money going into that than London’s growth deal even though London has a bigger population.
“We announced how important the Birmingham Curzon partnership is going to be, it’s a massive regeneration opportunity.
“We recognise Birmingham’s status as Britain’s second city as a powerhouse and it will get the attention it deserves.”
He offered encouragement to the region saying: “The point about the Northern Powerhouse is that through the cities of the north of England, all of who are smaller than Birmingham, we can achieve a better balance in the country if we link them together.
“That’s not anti-Birmingham, that will be good for Birmingham, not least because, it’s going to be the hub for HS2 going from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
“Don’t for one minute think Birmingham is going to be forgotten in all this.”
He also rejected the view that Birmingham’s economic success was in spite of the Government.
“I think that’s unfair. If you look at Jaguar Land Rover it’s a massive success, but their engine plant is built on an Enterprise Zone, put in place by the Government.
“Look at investment in road schemes, rail schemes. I’ve just been with Virgin Media who are taking on 6,000 people, many of them in the West Midlands.
“The Government’s long term economic plan is helping to create jobs in the West Midlands.”
One reason suggested for the imbalance has been that Greater Manchester is more unified in its aims and identity than Birmingham and its neighbours and that Birmingham’s political leadership is problematic – with Kerslake and Trojan Horse showing particular weakenesses.
“The City Council leadership in Birmingham faces challenges, everybody knows that. Kerslake has re-emphasised that and you can see that with the problems there’s been with children’s services and Trojan Horse.”
But Mr Cameron said he is confident Birmingham’s political leaders can turn the situation.
“I’ve got massive confidence in the city, the City Council does need to address some of the challenges.”
However he was dismayed to see that the Library of Birmingham at the centre of disputes about its funding.
Mr Cameron said: “It’s an amazing building, brilliantly done. But the whole concept was at the beginning that it would be a trust, not held in trust by the council. Then you would have private beneficial donors and that didn’t happen.”