Ins and Outs of EU red cards, red lines and emergency brakes

  • 2 February 2016
  • From the section England
Voting in the European Union Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Will the UK vote to stay in or leave the European Union

The likelihood of an EU Referendum on Thursday 23 June 2016 seems to fluctuate by the day, but at the time of writing it looks more probable than ever.

So in as little as four months' time, we could find ourselves making the most important political decision of our lives: to leave or to remain in the European Union.

No wonder we are already seeing a distinct sharpening in the debate between the Leavers and the Remainers.

The early exchanges remind me of that old 'Monty Python' scene in which the cry goes out: "What have the Romans done for us?" Except that this time it's the EU.

Back comes the answer from the CBI: the UK economy is 5% bigger than it would be were we not in the European Single Market. That equates to over three million jobs. Over £130bn worth of business is directly linked to trade with the EU according the pro EU business campaign Business Stronger in Britain.

Read full article Ins and Outs of EU red cards, red lines and emergency brakes

Midlands families split in immigration clampdown

  • 27 January 2016
  • From the section England

It remains the hottest talking point on the doorsteps and it's showing no sign of cooling down.

Image caption David Summers lives in Hereford, having moved back from Canada to care for his mother

The government's target of bringing net immigration down below 100,000 a year looks further away than ever, and the EU migration crisis is threatening to turn this into a perfect storm. If ministers have limited powers to stem the flow of people from around the EU, is it any wonder they clamp down extra hard on immigration from elsewhere in the world?

Tougher rules in force since in July 2012 mean thousands of families are living apart. You need to earn at least £18,600 a year plus £3,800 a year for each child for your spouse to move here permanently. Campaigners say almost half the population would not meet these figures. Some families are left having to use online video messaging to keep in touch during their years apart, while the British spouse tries to find a job that brings in enough money for their loved ones overseas to be able to join them here.

Read full article Midlands families split in immigration clampdown

UK City of Culture 2021: Midlands cities' beauty contest

  • 20 January 2016
  • From the section England
Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Coventry is one of three Midlands cities bidding to be named UK City of Culture, 2021

Cue the drum roll. This year's hopefuls lining up include no fewer than three Midlands cities: Coventry, Hereford, and Stoke-on-Trent. To the winner will go the honour of being named UK City of Culture, 2021. They have until next March to get their bids in. The result will be unveiled in the city awarded the accolade for 2017, Kingston-upon-Hull, which is now anticipating extra inward investment worth up to £80m.

But is there not something vaguely anachronistic about beauty contests these days, especially in this age of austerity? How can hard-pressed cities with serious challenges and heavy, competing demands on the public and private purse justify the costs of mounting bids when there are so many competitors, let alone the £10m or more it would take to stage the event if they succeed?

Read full article UK City of Culture 2021: Midlands cities' beauty contest

Birmingham testing the boundaries in council shake-up

  • 12 January 2016
  • From the section England
Moseley Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption Moseley Village may soon be in Moseley no longer

Let's start in Moseley Village - "Britain's best place to live in", according last year's survey by The Sunday Times.

It's famed for its pubs, wine bars, restaurants, independent shops and craft outlets - a welcome exception to the rule that every single high street has to look much the same as every other one, complete with the predictable array of coffee shop logos, supermarket chains and the rest of the familiar 'multiples', from Land's End to John O' Groats.

Read full article Birmingham testing the boundaries in council shake-up

Midlands in for the long haul debate on air duty

  • 5 January 2016
  • From the section England

'A one-size-fits-all tax'

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Devolved powers to cut air passenger duty at West Midlands airports were high on the wish-lists of people who will run the new combined authority

That's how air passenger duty (APD) was widely regarded when it was introduced 20 years ago. Inevitably, it's increased steadily since then and to this day it has the look of a very blunt instrument.

It adds a flat tax of £13 per head on short haul flights up to 2,000 miles. But for long-haul journeys, including transatlantic flights, it rises sharply to £71 each. Over the past year, George Osborne has eased the burden on families by exempting children under 12 travelling in economy from last May and those under 16, from this coming March.

Read full article Midlands in for the long haul debate on air duty

A Christmas Carol or Bleak House for local councils?

  • 15 December 2015
  • From the section England

When Mr Scrooge became Father Christmas

Image caption The significance of the Autumn Statement and Spending Review delivered by the chancellor at the end of last month has been lost on no-one in our local town halls

The season to be jolly this may be. But it is also the time of year when our local authorities face the decidedly less festive challenges of outlining their budgets for the coming year.

And that's why the significance of the Autumn Statement and Spending Review delivered by the chancellor at the end of last month has been lost on no-one in our local town halls and council houses.

Read full article A Christmas Carol or Bleak House for local councils?

Is it Labour Momentum or Labour Pains for Midlands MPs?

  • 8 December 2015
  • From the section England
Image copyright Other
Image caption Dave Nellist has been a Coventry city councillor for 14 years and has stood in successive Euro elections

"A party within a party"

Those of us with long memories feel as if we've been here before.

"A party within a party." "Hard Left Entryism." "The Loony Left." Until now they all had the ring of something from a bygone age.

Read full article Is it Labour Momentum or Labour Pains for Midlands MPs?

Chancellor offers more for 'devo max' plus super hospital

  • 25 November 2015
  • From the section England
George Osborne Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chancellor George Osborne used his Autumn Statement and Spending Review to detail £20bn in budget cuts

Chancellors love springing surprises, especially if they manage to shoot some of the opposition's foxes at the same time.

George Osborne will consider that he has scored not one but two direct hits - no cuts to working tax credits and no cuts to police budgets.

Read full article Chancellor offers more for 'devo max' plus super hospital

Birmingham Labour councillors set to choose new leader

  • 17 November 2015
  • From the section England
Image copyright PA
Image caption Birmingham's leaders will certainly hope their change of leader will help to create the impression of a page having been turned

It's one of the biggest jobs in Britain, in charge of an annual budget of over £3bn delivering services for one million people.

The next leader of Birmingham's ruling Labour group will be elected next Monday, 23 November 2015 and will formally take office as leader of the council a week after that.

Read full article Birmingham Labour councillors set to choose new leader

Midlands Economic Engine could be running by April

  • 29 October 2015
  • From the section England
Birmingham Image copyright PA
Image caption Plans for the new West Midlands Combined Authority are in and submitted to the government for review

Just under a year since that "historic agreement" between Birmingham and the four Black Country councils, we now have a clear timetable for the formation of the Midlands "Economic Engine", our answer to that much-hyped "Northern Powerhouse".

Now the 'shadow' authority, formed to pave the way for it, has submitted its final scheme and governance review to ministers. So the clock has started ticking.

Read full article Midlands Economic Engine could be running by April