Dave Harte fisks the recent Economist article on Birmingham. It seems their article was broadly factually correct, although a few of The Economist‘s facts are just a little squidgy as usual (I read it weekly, and the corrections page is often more chunky than it should be). Although Dave himself appears to have forgotten about Red Robbo and Leyland in the 1970s, in relation to the car industry’s destruction by socialism. And Dave doesn’t seem to spot it, but I took the Economist‘s reference to…

“it can be quicker to get to London than around Birmingham’s suburbs [by bus]”

… to be a rather opportunistic and unfair allusion to the time taken by the city’s legendary No.11 Outer Circle bus to circle the city.

One of the Economist‘s own bloggers also wrote a post putting Birmingham in a more positive light. He noted that a different view of Birmingham is possible if you look over the other side of the fence dividing the social classes…

“If you live in suburban Birmingham, commute to a banking job on one of the better train lines, eat in the city centre’s shiny new restaurants and go to plays at the booming Hippodrome theatre, then you probably would think that the city has improved an awful lot.”

One could also note that Birmingham serves a wider set of affluent commuters, and that the city-region’s services sector isn’t simply about what’s in the city-centre…


Above: Birmingham commuter and services “donut”.

For instance, the 2011 Staffordshire Economic Bulletin found that between 2003 and 2008 urban parts of the county lost 12,000 jobs, while the rural and semi-rural parts of the county added 13,000 jobs. Sectors with strong jobs growth were tourism, building and environmental technologies, professional services and digital media.

The donut might also help explain why Birmingham appears to have only half the number of graduates living in the city than they have in the Greater Manchester Area (where 38% are graduates). Do a large number of our graduates live outside the core city area, and commute in? It seems likely that the city’s apparent lack of graduates is simply an artifact of the parameters for collecting the statistics. For instance, the Birmingham “Primary Urban Area” is actually deemed to include Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall — all low-achieving places guaranteed to drag down the overall number of graduates — but doesn’t include the rural fringes and market towns linked to the city by commuter routes.

There’s also a round-up of the reactions to the Economist report among the city’s PR and marketing sector.