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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 12:01 GMT
Investment consultation...
Nick Watson
Nick Watson
The Politics Show
West Midlands

Birmingham's Bullring
Birmingham's Bullring is an exemplar of architectural development

It has been described as the "biggest ever" consultation exercise on the future of the West Midlands economy with up to 10bn of investment at stake.

But how many people actually know it's happening?

Businesses, local authorities, the voluntary sector and a host of other organisations are currently taking part in a series of events hosted by Advantage West Midlands and the West Midlands Regional Assembly.

The aim is to collect ideas for the West Midlands Economic Strategy - the blueprint for the region's development in terms of jobs, transport, skills and other key issues in the coming years.

Publication of the strategy is due in Autumn 2007.

World-class region

Nick Paul, Advantage West Midlands Chairman, said: "I think everybody can agree that the West Midlands aspires to be a world-class region.

"In order to reach this goal, we need a strategy that is developed, owned and delivered by the region working together as a team.

"Our region has a 10bn gap in our overall economic performance compared to the national average and closing this gap could be worth 2,000 to every single person living in the West Midlands.

Computer keyboard
Hi tech industries may be on the "incoming" list

"This is the biggest consultation we have ever embarked upon and we want to hear as many voices as we can in order to shape the future of our region.

"It is at these meetings that we will shape the strategy and the work that organisations such as Advantage West Midlands and the Regional Assembly does in the years ahead to generate 10bn more for our region."

But while everybody apparently agrees that the West Midlands "aspires to be a world class region", not everybody is happy about the strategy for achieving that particular goal.

Does a roadshow and a series of presentations constitute proper democratic consultation and is the process truly democratically accountable?

Not all agree

An organisation calling itself West Midlands No! has begun an internet campaign targeting Advantage West Midlands and its accompanying Regional Assembly as well as other organisations it suspects of having an agenda of "regionalisation."

Stuart Parr, from Telford in Shropshire, is the creator of the web campaign.

In the preamble to a petition he is asking visitors to his site to sign, he sums up the manifesto pretty neatly.

Car manufacturing
What benefits could accrue for manufacturing industries?

"England is infested with undemocratic, unaccountable regional quangos.

"These include regional assemblies, regional development agencies, regional observatories and the new city regions.

"None of these quango's are elected and none of them answer to the public, yet they cost the taxpayer billions of pounds.

"This whole tier of unwanted regional government should be abolished and the powers and responsibilities they have given back to our elected local councils."

They spotlight two recent grants to football clubs in particular as examples of money they do not think has been well spent.

MP on board

Port Vale Football Club received 738,000 from AWM towards a 2.2m project at Port Vale. AWM also recently put money into an opportunity for a 40-week coaching placement at West Bromwich Albion.

One website contributor asks: "It'll be interesting to see how they justify this when the reason for AWM's existence is to bring investment and business into the region. How does a community football coach do this"?

Two scientists talking
Research and development could be a key element to future funding input

The campaign has already attracted the support of Shrewsbury & Atcham Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski and the West Midlands UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass.

Mr Kawczynski says he wants Advantage West Midlands to be the subject of more scrutiny and goes even further when talking about the regional assemblies.

"I want them abolished. The borough council and the chamber of commerce know what's going on locally for instance in my constituency in Shrewsbury. The government should trust those people rather than some unelected regional body."

He also accused the assembly in the West Midlands of being "Birmingham-centric" and not giving a fair deal to rural counties like Shropshire.


The remaining consultation events on the West Midlands Economic Strategy take place at:

Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, near Warwick (Monday February 19)
Hereford Racecourse (Tuesday February 20)
University of Birmingham (Thursday February 22)


Also in the programme...

Open wide...

The region's dentists are being forced to turn away patients because of miscalculations by the Department of Health.

That is the shocking charge being levelled at the government by our region's leading dentists.

Dentist
Open wide the door - PCT says that money is draining away

They blame problems with the new dental contracts which came into force last April. These contracts were supposed to improve the situation.

At least, that was what the health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the reforms were all about when they came in last year.

The idea was to give dentists more time to talk to patients about how to look after their teeth, to offer preventive advice, and not just see appointments as a sort of high-speed conveyor belt.

But the dentists say the whole thing has backfired... patients are being turned away because the local primary care trusts are running out of money.

So what's it like on the set of the Politics Show..? Sonia Deol takes us there...

The Politics Show

Join the Politics Show team... Sunday 11 February 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

If you have an issue you would like us to follow up then please write to Nick Watson, BBC Politics Show Midlands, The Mailbox, Birmingham, B1 1RF or email nicholas.watson@bbc.co.uk


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