Birmingham Airport's high speed rail campaign puts Kehoe out on a limb
New Birmingham Airport boss Paul Kehoe has been ruffling a few feathers at the city council, I hear.
Mr Kehoe has shown himself to be unwilling to toe the line followed by his predecessors, and indeed by executives of all bodies with the city as a major shareholder, which is to defer at all times to council leader Mike Whitby.
The line laid down by the Great Leader’s office is that Birmingham shall unequivocally welcome last month’s Network Rail study suggesting running high speed trains between London and Birmingham city centre.
Trouble is, Network Rail don’t intend to stop the 200mph trains at Birmingham Airport and the NEC, an astonishing omission that could cost the West Midlands economy billions of pounds.
You’d think Whitby and Co would be jumping up to join Mr Kehoe in his campaign to make the government see sense. But no, once again the bigger picture has been lost in a knee-jerk reaction to embrace a Grand Project, whatever the wider implications might be.
Paul Kehoe, though, is unlikely to be put off by a minor council official’s clumsy attempt to silence him.
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It’s only a few weeks old, but Birmingham City Council’s press office website is already verging on cult status.
In terms that would make journalists on Pravda blush, birminghamnewsroom.com paints a relentlessly upbeat picture of the global city with a local heart.
Mr Business Transformation, the hapless Glyn Evans, popped up the other day to explain how a 383 per cent increase in the cost of a new council website – up from £580,000 to £2 million – shouldn’t be regarded as overspending.
It’s all to do with council bosses changing their minds, ramping up the spec of the website, with the result that the cost went up. Easily done when you’re spending other people’s money.
But I was taken this week by the way birminghamnewsroom has adopted classic government tactics of rebutting a story that never existed. Press officer Kris Kowalewski pens what he calls a “clarification of facts”, laying into a story in the Post about the council business management committee’s decision to reject staging a referendum on whether Birmingham should be run by a mayor.
Kris writes that the meeting, although thinly attended, was quoarate and the decision is therefore valid, and that the agenda was published correctly eight days before. Yes, well, quite so, but no such claims were ever made.
The real story, glossed over by birminghamnewsroom, is that a report of such importance went to the committee during the summer holidays when leading councillors were absent. It was, as Labour’s Sir Albert Bore said, slipped through when the city’s Tory-Lib Dem leaders thought no one would notice.
Personally, I await with some enthusiasm the day after the next General Election when a new Conservative government orders Birmingham to take the mayoral issue seriously.