Well last night (Tuesday 21 February) saw Birmingham Chamber and Birmingham City Council jointly host the Birmingham Parliamentary Reception in the Houses of Parliament. Now I confess that I am often found in Parliament in the day job and find these sorts of events extremely useful for a number of reasons.
Cynics often argue that these receptions are frivolous and futile. I have not found that to be the case although if you do attend these events within a particular field – for example, the transport sector – it is a particular opportunity to create, build and maintain strong relationships with a wide number of people, especially politicians of course. But the nub of it is the visibility of your subject – in this case Birmingham – the confidence, the message, the presentation, the show, the networking.
And last night proved that with Andrew Mitchell, Justine Greening and Eric Pickles all representing the Cabinet along with Greg Clark (Cities Minister) and Liam Byrne (Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions). But I suppose the other notable point was the usual crowd issue from Birmingham events and this is where the cynics kick in.
A number of those present have openly said, or hinted, that it was a Birmingham event that was just shifted to London for the evening. My personal view is that that would be unfair. The event was the right thing to do to showcase the city and make the case for investment, regeneration, devolved powers and funding, real governmental support for the city, continuing the case for transport investment, high speed rail and the airport. That requires Birmingham to wheel out the people who make that case for the city rather than wheeling out the ‘faces’ that like to be seen at these events.
There was a distinct lack of representation from key parts of the city’s communities. There was no coherent case or message as to what this was about and I’m afraid the Council Leader’s speech perhaps reflected that. As passionate as ever, Mike exuded Birmingham’s ambition as the Global City with a Local Heart but without the conviction that some meaty evidence and military messaging could assist with.
But this shouldn’t deflect from the fact that the Birmingham reception attracted a strong attendance and serious Cabinet representation which is never to be sniffed at. These events do matter – Manchester has been masterful and putting on the show, having the public face and political face, making the message – and it has delivered results. To argue that Birmingham was being wasteful would be to argue from a position of serious naivety about how the world works. But there is room for improvement to make such events even more effective and produce real outcomes for Birmingham.