Labour wasn’t working

A new short report and data from the ONS, GVA for Local Enterprise Partnerships, 1997-2012 gives, “for the first time” they say, robustly calculated data on economic output for what are now the LEP areas of the English regions. They measure ‘Gross Value Added’ in the UK investment regions, or to put it in simple terms, ‘how much actual wealth was measured as being created in an area’.

Table 8: LEPs with lowest average growth rate per annum of nominal GVA per head, 1997-2012:

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire 2.8%

Coventry and Warwickshire 2.7%

Black Country 2.2%

This barrel-scraping level of growth, in the years of neglect and failure under New Labour, did not set the West Midlands up well for the recession…

Table 10: LEPs with lowest average growth rate per annum of nominal GVA per head, 2007-2012:

Greater Birmingham and Solihull 0.1%

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire 0.0%

Black Country -0.1%

Some of this will be down to, or heavily skewed by, the gross neglect of manufacturing under Labour. Back in December 2013 the ONS found that…

“The region showing the greatest decrease in absolute terms was the West Midlands, where manufacturing accounted for 27.5% of GVA in 1997 and 13.8% of GVA in 2011.”

However it might also be useful to consider that these new figures are ‘broad brush’ and may be masking strong sub-regional variations (the economic restructuring of the city of Stoke-on-Trent dragging down the much larger and more robust Staffordshire; or the growth of Solihull masking the moribund parts of inner Birmingham).

Then I’d guess (I’m not an economist, statistician, geographer etc) that one should also consider the distortions that might have been introduced by the weird sprawls of the current LEP areas, something that is presumably due as much to regional politics as to actual economic areas. The “Greater Birmingham” LEP, for instance, is a very weird shape and takes in many areas that even an economic geographer might be hard pressed to associate with central Birmingham…


Arts Org Search

A new Custom Search Engine, courtesy of Chris Unitt. His Arts Org Search Engine (UK) just searches the websites of 101 UK arts orgs. Especially useful for those needing to swiftly cherrypick a list of cool summer touring events across a wide region of the UK, perhaps. Or to look for elusive job ads.

Currently included…

“Aldeburgh Music, Almeida Theatre Company, Arnolfini, Artangel, BALTIC Centre For Contemporary Arts, Barbican Centre, Battersea Arts Centre, Belgrade Theatre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Brighton Dome, Bristol Old Vic, Camden Arts Centre, Chichester Festival Theatre, City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Colchester Mercury Theatre, Contact Theatre, Contemporary Dance Trust (The Place), Cornerhouse, Crafts Council, Cumbria Theatre Trust, Curve Theatre, DanceEast, DanceXchange, English National Ballet, English National Opera, English Touring Opera, English Touring Theatre, Fact (Foundation For Art & Creative Technology), Farnham Maltings, Firstsite, Glyndebourne, Halle Concerts Society, Hampstead Theatre, Headlong, Ikon Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA), Live Theatre, Liverpool Biennial Of Contemporary Art, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Midland Arts Centre, Modern Art Oxford, National Theatre, New Art Gallery Walsall, New Vic Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Northampton Theatres Trust, Northern Ballet Theatre, Northern Stage, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Playhouse Trust, Octagon Theatre Trust Limited, Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Opera North, Orchestras Live, Palace Theatre Watford Ltd, Philharmonia Orchestra. Pioneer Theatres Ltd, Polka Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Royal Court Theatre, Royal Exchange Theatre, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Opera House, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Shakespeare Company, Sadler’s Wells, Sage Gateshead, Salisbury Arts Theatre, Serpentine Gallery, Sheffield Theatres, Siobhan Davies Dance, Soho Theatre, Sound and Music, South East Dance, South London Gallery, Southbank Centre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, The Drum, The Hepworth Wakefield, The Junction, The Lowry, The Photographers’ Gallery, The Roundhouse, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Triangle Arts Trust, Unicorn, Watershed, Welsh National Opera, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Whitechapel Gallery, York Theatre Royal, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Young Vic, Shakespeare’s Globe”

You can also use my search tool to search for arts research outputs in the UK. Such as academic papers, reports, think-tank pamphlets, ejournals, and similar. JURN doesn’t index any of Chris’s websites, so there are no overlaps.

Windows 8.1 Update 1

I suggest readers delay installing the Windows 8.1 Update 1 (KB2919355). I’ve tried everything suggested on the help forums to get it to install. It just won’t install, and on a relatively new (Jan 2014) and clean PC that’s been kept fully patched. Sadly this failure to install seems to be a fairly common experience for 64-bit Windows 8 users.

All prerequisite previous updates were installed. Security updates were updated to the latest available:

Install failed.

I cleaned out any remnants of the Windows 8.1 Update 1 (KB2919355) with CMD ‘dism’ command, then ran the dism /startcomponentcleanup command. Both CMD dism repairs went to 100% complete:

Install failed.

I did a clean boot of the PC with all services and third-party startups disabled:

Install failed.

I then repeated the first CMD ‘dism’ command (see above). Rebooted the PC into a clean boot, as per the official MS instructions on that. Then ran the dism /startcomponentcleanup command. Again, 100% complete on both CMD dism repairs. Then I ran the Windows Update Diagnostic twice, just to be on the safe side, but:

Install failed.

Sadly, it’s a compulsory patch: Microsoft decided to give users four weeks to get Windows 8.1 Update 1 installed, or face not getting any updates at all in future. So I guess it’s a question of waiting for Microsoft Windows Update to offer up the fix that fixes the mess they’ve made of this patch rollout. Their business clients were apparently furious at these kind of failures, and Microsoft had to suspend the rollout for the commercial sector last week.

Peak fitness

Free vintage cycle and lifestyle festival up in the Peak District on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border, this summer. Plus an “up hill, down dale” cycle race. I know some of that area, and wowzer it is going to be strenous!



Sajid Javid replaces Maria Miller

Oh, that’s good news. We have a new Arts and Culture Secretary to replace to the total disaster-zone that was Maria Miller. Sajid Javid has just been named as her replacement. He’s MP for Bromsgrove, so I’d hope that the down-to-earth attitudes of the West Midlands will keep him from drifting too far into the Westminster bubble.

Son of a bus driver, Sajid grew up on what was once called “Britain’s most dangerous street”. He went to Exeter University, where he studied Economics and Politics. Then he was head-hunted as a VP of Chase Manhattan and later went on to Deutsche Bank in Singapore where he specialised in arranging investment in developing countries. So he’s actually had real jobs, and (perhaps more important) has given them up to serve his country — inspired it seems by the tradition of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher.

But sadly there seems to be very little culture or arts involvement evident in his biography, and he’s apparently not the most charismatic media performer in the world. Perhaps cultivating a taste for the arts will lead him toward a better understanding of how to deliver his own public performance.


$550 bamboo WarkaWater towers, producing 25 gallons of drinkable water each day from water dew in the air. Set for real-world tests in Ethiopia in 2015.



Blognix 2014

14th June 2014:
Blognix 2014. A one-day event for bloggers, at the Custard Factory, Birmingham.


Looks a bit too expensive for me.


19th September 2014:
Hackference 2.0.14 Conference. “Three day event with a conference day, then a full weekend hackathon to top it off.” Birmingham.


Shelf and safety

The new Library of Birmingham brought to book. Or rather, not brought. If a book is down in the storage stacks, or up on a public shelf that’s too high, its reported that Council’s health ‘n safety rules mean that it can’t be retrieved.

Bicycle: the film

Phase two of a major documentary on the bicycle in Britain is crowdfunding now. Seems to be being made in the West Midlands…

Blog brain

A fascinating new open access article, The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning. It gets a little dense between the abstract and the conclusion, but basically finds…

“… that older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows. … Our results indicate that older adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline.”

So you may slow down a little, but any slowness is because there’s so much in your mind to sort through. In that case the “outboard memory bank” function of frequent blogging / Instapaper archiving / vast date-ordered digicam archives etc looks like a winning strategy, as the baby boom generation starts to head into old age.

‘You’ll believe a nerd can fly!’

Drone with real-time streaming HD video steady-cam + a connected Oculus Rift = flying like a bird.

Six-inch to the mile OS maps, free

Six-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey maps, 1842-1952, now free and synced onto Google Maps.



Welcome to the Pleasuredome…

Nice to see that the social equivalent of the Oculus Rift is right here in the West Midlands (Shropshire, to be precise). Igloo Technology make HD immersive media domes from 20ft across and larger, complete with special media players and all the kit needed…


March 2014 budget digest

A quick look at today’s Budget [full video], from the point of view of the creative industries:

* Basic rate tax threshold is put up to £10,500, meaning many artists and bootstrapping startup business owners will pay no income tax. It also seems that the first “£5,000 of savings income” will attract a zero tax rate.

* The popular Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme to be made permanent.

* Tax reliefs confirmed for film and high-end TV production, and planned for regional theatre production…

“The European Commission has today approved the extension of our film tax credit – and I will apply the same successful approach to theatre, especially regional theatre. From this September there will be a 20% tax relief for qualifying productions, and 25% for regional touring.”

* £10 million boost for the Cultural Gifts Scheme, in which taxpayers donate works to museums in return for a tax bill reduction.

* A £2 billion expansion of the Annual Investment Allowance: meaning 99.8% of all UK businesses will get a 100% tax break on new investment in equipment and machinery.

* Another boost for the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent: a £7 billion package to cut energy bills for all British manufacturers, and also extension for a compensation scheme for energy intensive industries (such as pottery making) out to 2020.

* Interest rates on the government’s export finance guarantees to exporters are set to… “be cut by a third”.

* An extension of “the grants for smaller businesses” to support “over 100,000 more” apprenticeships. Also a mention of a new type of degree-granting apprenticeship.

* Social enterprises to get Social Investment Tax Relief at a rate of 30% (although that one might be a re-announcement).

Also nice to see:

~ A new £42m Alan Turing Institute, for Big Data and associated algorithm research. I’d guess that Manchester, or nearby, may have a good chance of getting this.

~ An extra £20 million to support the repairs needed to cathedrals.

Tortoise racing in Birmingham

Tortoise racing in Birmingham, 1957.


Talk in Brum: High-End VFX

27th March 2014:
High-End VFX for Low-Budget Movies, BIAD, Birmingham City University.

Those who can’t attend might take a look at the software HitFilm 2.

Boris bikes it for Brum

There’s a nice proposal for an HS2 cycle path, though I’ve not heard about it before now. Today…

“Boris Johnson has added his voice to calls for a cycle route to be built alongside the proposed HS2 high-speed train line from London to Birmingham … A feasibility study is currently under way on the viability of such a route to be put in place alongside much of the railway line.”

I immediately visualize the path as something very close to the track bed, with cyclists able to sniff the diesel fumes. But — given that HS2 is likely to take a clean 250 yard slice of land around the train tracks — I guess the cycle-path might actually be on one edge of the track space, and would be mostly screened from the track by tree plantings and earth banks.

I certainly like the idea of a brand-new flat cycling route across all that distance, with no need to negotiate all the niggling obstructions and annoyances that a SUSTRANS long-distance cycle route is forced to contend with. But an important thing to forestall would be the possibility of the path becoming a de facto motorbike commuter highway. Or that it might become a haven for local scrambler-motorbike teen gangs, especially on the inner-city approaches to Birmingham/London, who might then become inclined to turn their hand to mugging the commuters. The possibility of motorbike use would ideally be dealt with without erecting annoying tubular-steel anti-motorbike barriers every three hundred yards, which become a mugging risk in their own right (in that they force cyclists to stop). Perhaps there could be a national competition to find the most viable way to keep the HS2 cycleway free of noisy motorbikes, without inconveniencing cyclists?

There will presumably have to be local access tunnels under the HS2 line at various points, despite the security risk entailed, so a cycle-path would not have to stay on one side or other of the tracks all the way from Euston to Eastside.

MOOC on data journalism

A free MOOC on data journalism, starting 19th May 2014, complete with a lecturer from Birmingham City University (among others).


I just found out that the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention is being held in August 2014 in London. The trailer video may be especially interesting to Midlanders who have always rather fancied seeing the perfidious capital attacked by giant monsters, space aliens etc…