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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
The seat of power?
Nick Watson
Nick Watson
The Politics Show
West Midlands

Liam Byrne MP
We need to make sure that those people writing cheques for large amounts of money in Whitehall and Westminster actually understand regional priorities
Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne MP has already been described as "the most powerful man in the West Midlands", but will the new minister for the region have any real power - and what would the voters like to see him do exactly?

The Birmingham Hodge Hill MP, Liam Byrne, was among nine regional ministers appointed across England in Gordon Brown's cabinet reshuffle, as the new PM sought to dispel his image as a "Stalinist" centraliser.

His new post will run alongside his current role as a Home Office minister responsible for immigration.

But what does Mr Byrne see as his priorities?

In an interview with BBC WM radio he said housing, transport and manufacturing were currently top of his list.

"It may include things like making sure there are more affordable homes, particularly for younger families looking to get on the property ladder," he explained.

"[Also] making sure we get the right kind of investment in our transport system in the Midlands and the right investment going into jobs, particularly manufacturing industry which needs to become more science-based."

On housing this could mean stamping out nimbyism when it comes to building those much-needed new homes on green-belt land around our towns and cities.

Giving voice

And on transport, finally getting some movement on the long-awaited project to redevelop Birmingham New Street railway station, could feature too.

Mr Byrne says he wants to be the man speaking up for the West Midlands within government and making sure the region gets its voice heard.

"The idea is that more and more gets done at the regional level and we need to make sure that those people writing cheques for large amounts of money in Whitehall and Westminster actually understand regional priorities," he told BBC WM.

Alongside the new minister the plan is to have a West Midlands region Question Time session at which the minister will be quizzed by his fellow West Midlands MPs, as well as a regional select committee, to scrutinise his work.

So far, the response to the new regional ministers has been muted.

But the Conservatives may feel that Mr Brown has stolen some of their clothes as they already have shadow ministers for the region's main cities in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent.

Report condemned

Daniel Kawczynski MP
Gordon Brown has appointed a Birmingham MP as Minister for the West Midlands - yet again ignoring how much of the West Midlands is a rural area
Daniel Kawczynski

Shrewsbury & Atcham Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski has been more outspoken, condemning the appointment.

"Causing greater concern to me is the appointment of new regional ministers, meaning we have a Minister for the West Midlands, to accompany the West Midlands Government Office and the West Midlands Assembly - this is the steady Balkanisation of the country."

. "What is more, I note that Gordon Brown has appointed a Birmingham MP as Minister for the West Midlands - yet again ignoring how much of the West Midlands is a rural area, whose interests are unlikely to be effectively represented by an inner city MP.

"This in itself demonstrates the nonsense of a regional system of government that does not reflect the diversity of an area."

Our reporter Joan Cummins has been to check out opinions on the new ministry. Is it a bit of regional window dressing or an office with real clout where it matters at the heart of government?

Also in the programme...

We're off to the south of our region and the beautiful Cotswolds - so beautiful in fact that many people chose to buy a second home in its seemingly endless supply of chocolate box villages.

Sudeley Castle
Of course there are houses and houses... even in the Cotswolds

Villages like Broadway where the influx of weekend and holiday home-buyers has an inevitable impact on the local housing market.

According to neighbouring Cotswold District Council's own report into social housing the problem is simple: "The limited supply of, and high demand for, housing in the Cotswolds has led to high prices and rents.

"It is now extremely difficult for local people on low incomes, and increasingly for those people on middle incomes, to afford a home of their own".

Forced out

"Unless more affordable housing is provided, there is a danger that those on lower and middle incomes, particularly the young, will be forced to leave the district in increasing numbers", the report adds.

"As a result, our communities will be damaged and the district's age and social structure will become even more biased towards the elderly and the wealthy".

With estimates that as many as 500,000 new homes are required to meet the housing need of the West Midlands region in the coming years, it is a political nettle that needs to be grasped and grasped soon.

Our Political Editor Patrick Burns has been finding out where these new homes can be built and the possible political fall-out if they are not.

Join the Politics Show team... Sunday 15 July 2007 at 12:00 BST 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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