die belebende Bedenkung

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Midland connection and aspiration

with one comment

The ‘Midlands Connect Strategy’, published on 9 March 2017, states that Midlands Connect is a ‘voluntary pan-Midlands partnership of local transport authorities, local enterprise partnerships and local business representatives working with the Department for Transport and its key delivery bodies.’

'Midlands Engine' area, 2017

[Midlands Connect strategy, Mar 2017]

The Partnership now forms the transport component of the Midlands Engine for Growth. Leadership and accountability is provided by the Strategic Board comprising an independent chair, Sir John Peace, elected members from six local authorities, four LEP chairs and representatives of HS2 Ltd, Network Rail and Highways England.
Whist our vision is ambitious, it is built on a strong technical evidence base and does not assume unlimited financial resources. In addition to implementing existing commitments, we set out a limited number of priorities which we will develop further over the next three years, making use of the additional £17 million of Government funding announced in autumn 2016, to enable delivery to start in the period 2020-25. We also provide a set of longer term interventions for development and delivery over the following years.

Our objective is to establish a rolling 25-year programme of strategic road and rail improvements, split into five year ‘blocks’ consistent with expected road and rail investment periods and the implementation of HS2. This comprehensive long term approach will give much-needed certainty to businesses, communities and investors whilst also improving quality of life, improving skills and enhancing access to new opportunities – both within the Midlands and beyond.

According to the Strategy,

  • an average speed of 60 mph (96 km/h) on the Strategic Road Network should be available between ‘our key centres’
  • a highway journey should be no more than 20% longer than the average
  • rail journeys between key centres should have end to end speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h) where possible
  • in the peak, people should not have to stand on trains for more than 20 minutes.
Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

But are these aspirations realistic, or desirable?

For example, why might it be acceptable to stand for 19 minutes, but not for 21? What are the societal costs of ‘100% of travellers seated, for every rail journey over 20 minutes’?

The document also outlines plans to increase Birmingham rail capacity by implementing the ‘Midlands Rail Hub’. This appears to be a rebranding of the old scheme to implement two new chords at Camp Hill.

Is the Midlands Rail Hub concept little more than a re-branding of the Camp Hill chords scheme?

In the view of the Beleben blog, the likelihood of significant capacity uplift just from building the Camp Hill chords, is questionable.

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

Birmingham to Lincoln by train is about 89 miles and takes two and a half hours, so the end to end speed is ~35 mph. Is that really ‘holding back regional productivity’? Or are other factors, like ‘human capital’, much more important?

'Average speeds on SRN, 2014'

‘Average speeds on SRN, 2014’

Written by beleben

March 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in Business, HS2, Planning, Politics

Gideon in Japan

leave a comment »

When Britain’s chancellor George Osborne goes to Japan, as he likes to do, he sees how the bullet train from Tokyo made Osaka a dramatically different place, reported The Guardian (27 January 2013).

And he’s often looked at the fast trains on the southern seaboard of China – and he thinks, if only Leeds, Manchester, Rotherham, Barnsley, Derby could have the same sort of connections – if people who lived there could apply for jobs elsewhere, or potential clients in London could source business from those places.”

I don’t think Mr Osborne could see ‘how the bullet train from Tokyo made Osaka a dramatically different place’, because the Shinkansen opened several years before he was born. According to UCLA senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg, the introduction of high-speed passenger service in Japan had no discernible effect on growth rates of cities and regions.

Written by beleben

January 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Thirty pages of drivel

leave a comment »

Birmingham smart city vision, Nov 2012

Members of Birmingham city council’s transport, connectivity and sustainability scrutiny committee have slated the November 2012 28-page ‘Smart City statement‘. Chairwoman Victoria Quinn (Labour, Sparkbrook) said it was “more or less 30 pages of drivel”, Josh Jones (Labour, Stockland Green) called it “a vision statement without a clear vision”, and Robert Alden (Conservative, Erdington) declared that “The report talks about ending silo working but seems written by and written for those in that digital silo”.

Digital Birmingham‘s Raj Mack, one of the authors of the Vision, said that it was based on statements produced in cities like Barcelona. The cabinet member for a green, safe and smart city, James McKay (Labour, Harborne) claimed that it had been well-received by the business community.

In December 2012, the city council’s news website covered the publication of the vision statement.

Smart city vision statement
[By Kris Kowalewski – December 18, 2012]

The things that need to be done to prepare Birmingham for the challenges of the future have been published in a vision statement by the Smart City Commission today (December 18).

Set up by the city council in July, the commission has been tasked with coming up with a “future proofing” strategy to ensure that Birmingham is at the forefront of technological innovation and change – ensuring sustainable economic growth, prosperity and an improved quality of life in the process.

Its work is set against a challenging context for Birmingham, which sees the city ranked as the ninth most deprived out of 354 authorities in England, with 35 per cent of children classified as living in poverty and unemployment twice the national average.

In addition to this, 18.5 per cent of people are not online, and just one quarter of residents are classed as being “highly-skilled”.

As a result, the commission, whose members are drawn from business, academia and government, have announced the following priority areas of work:

– Leadership/ownership: The Smart City roadmap must strategically be led at the highest level, but also fully embrace communities, businesses and citizens at a grass roots level to help shape and jointly-design services.

– Exploiting technologies: Birmingham needs to develop ultra-fast digital connectivity, to attract inward investment. A Smart Development Blueprint will shape this plan.

– Service transformation: Working together, sharing all available data to modernise services so issues are anticipated and prevented rather than reacted to and fixed. This will deliver more personalised and targeted services for citizens.

– New information marketplaces: Promoting an ‘Open Data’ agenda for the council and others in recognition of the fact that maximising the use of high-quality information can help improve services and develop new opportunities for entrepreneurs.

– Supporting innovation: Reviewing public procurement practices to encourage new ideas, along with the creation of an innovative development fund.

– Closing the digital divide: Affordable connectivity and improving existing skills are vital to capitalise on the opportunities the Smart City agenda offers.

– Profiling and influencing: Developing ways in which the city’s many organisations can work together to champion Birmingham as a Smart City in the areas of enterprise and social collaboration to make the city an attractive location to invest in

A series of recommendations will now be developed to cover the priority areas, forming the basis of an action plan and roadmap for the commission.

The roadmap will be published in summer 2013 and include a timeline of activities, details of linkages to the council’s Green Commission and Youth Unemployment Commission and detail of funding and investment opportunities (public and private) to support the delivery of the vision.

Cllr James McKay, Chair of the Smart City Commission, said: “The world is constantly changing, and over the last few decades the pace of technological development has been staggering, posing a major challenge for traditionally industrial cities like Birmingham.

“The world will not stand still, so we need to position ourselves to maximise the opportunities this change brings.

“We must innovate, integrate, collaborate and pool resources, share information and work with as many partners as possible to achieve this – the Smart City Vision Statement is the first step towards grasping the opportunities on offer and breaking down silos, to ensure Birmingham has the most prosperous future possible.”

Anyone with feedback on the vision statement or ideas to develop the document is invited to contact the commission by e-mail at

An online version of the Smart City Vision Statement is available here.


Notes to editors

A definition for a Smart City

“Smart Cities use information and communication technologies and data to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life and reduced environmental footprint – all supporting innovation and the low carbon economy”. Boyd Cohen, Climate Strategist

Members of the Smart City Commission

The current list of Smart City Commission members is as follows:

Cllr James McKay – CHAIR
Mark Barrow – Strategic Director of Development, Birmingham City Council
Chris Parker – Managing Partner, CS Transform Limited
Des Correia – Director, Arup
Duncan Botting – Managing Director, Global Smart Transformation Limited
Enrique Sanchez – Smart Cities Lead, Ferrovial
Guenter Pecht-Seibert – Senior Vice President, SAP AG
Keith Osman – Director of Research, Birmingham City University
Mike Perry – Principal Consultant, Building Research Establishment (BRE)
Sandy Taylor – Head of Climate Change and Environment, Birmingham City Council
Richard Foggie – Director, HoIP CIC
Rick Robinson – Executive Architect, IBM
Steve George – Director, SGTI (representing Centro and UTMC – urban traffic management and control)
Dr Phil Extance – Pro-Vice Chancellor, Aston University
Raj Mack – Head of Digital Birmingham
Prof Chris Rogers – Professor of Geotechnical Engineering & Deputy Head of School of Civil Engineering, University of Birmingham
Dr Christine Braddock – Principal & Chief Executive, Birmingham Metropolitan College
Mark Bew – Chair of BIM (Building Information Modelling) Task Group, Cabinet Office
Nick Booth – Managing Director, Podnosh
Vicky Sargent – Director, Boilerhouse Media

Citizens are invited to give their opinion (between 18/12/2012 — 30/03/2013) on the vision at the condescendingly titled Birmingham be heard website. I’d be surprised if 2% of them knew that the website existed, but that doesn’t matter, because their views are unlikely to be of any interest to the council.

Birmingham Smart City: vapid outcomes

When Labour took over in May 2012, they quickly removed the Conservative / Liberal Democrat ‘Global City Local Heart’ branding from council publications, but much of the vapid phraseology in the document was originated under the previous administration.

Birmingham Smart City-What It Looks Like

Current city systems and processes are generally reactive and for historic reasons rooted in functional service delivery silos exacerbated by inflexible legacy systems and long term contracts; poor information flows prevent a shared and connected approach across the many projects and multiple organisations, which seek to work in partnership to deliver the city outcomes.

Written by beleben

January 25, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Built environment, Business

Tagged with

This year’s winner

with one comment

Patrick McLoughlin MP was keynote speaker at Transport Times awards junket

Coalition DCLG minister Eric Pickles’ December 2012 guidance to local government on ways to save money included cancelling “away days in posh hotels and glitzy award ceremonies”.

There is a whole Awards ‘n Awaydays industry feeding off local government (and the wider public sector, including the NHS). But needless to say, coalition ministers are not unknown to attend such junkets, in one capacity or another.

Transport Times Events is part of the fake awards ecosystem financed by public funds.

Centro press-release on the National Transport Awards 2011

West Midlands transport authority Centro nominated itself for six awards at the Transport Times ‘National Transport Awards’ 2011. Its press release said it had ‘picked up nominations in half a dozen categories’.

Centro press release
Mon 22/08/2011

Centro nominated for six awards at transport ‘Oscars’

Centro will be hoping to hit the opposition for six at this year’s National Transport Awards, after picking up nominations in half a dozen categories.

The region’s transport authority will be vying for six accolades at the Awards, regarded as the transport industry’s ‘Oscars’, to be held in London in October.

The event at London’s Lancaster Hotel will see Centro hoping to scoop the awards for:

Travel Information and Marketing
The Joe Clarke Passenger Transport Authority of the Year
Excellence in Technology
Improvements to Bus Services
Most Innovative Transport Project
Contribution to Sustainable Transport

Written by beleben

January 4, 2013 at 11:58 am

Posted in Business, Centro, Local government, Politics

Tagged with ,

Concorde, Allegro, HS2

with 3 comments

Engineering-led commercial failure: the Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde. Picture by james.gordon6108 (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Engineering-led commercial failure: the Austin Allegro. Picture by Charles01, GNU Free Documentation Licence

On 9 July, ITV Meridian television broadcast an interview with business and transport mogul Richard Branson, in which he backed construction of another runway at Heathrow

if they’re going to do an aviation review without including [the option of expansion at] Heathrow, there’s no point in the airlines taking part

and expressed reservations about the HS2 rail project.

some things haven’t been thought through properly… it’s a scheme that’s been put together by engineers… they should really have involved the people in the commercial sector of the industry more.

High speed rail is not an alternative to expansion at Heathrow airport, it makes expansion more likely. But as Mr Branson stated, HS2 is engineering led. Just like Concorde, and the Austin Allegro.

I don’t see how bringing in people with financial, marketing, and travel industry expertise into HS2 would help, since its principal parameters and outputs are politically determined, and immutable. No-one in their right mind would suggest spending £32,000,000,000 building a new railway between London and Manchester, with 400 metre long trains travelling at 350 km/h, stopping just once, at the outskirts of Birmingham.

Written by beleben

July 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

Paradise lost

with 2 comments

No paradise: generic office buildingsWith the construction of Birmingham’s Inner Ring Road (Queensway) in the 1960s and 1970s, the area around Baskerville House in the city centre was altered beyond recognition. At some point in the early 1970s, the original plans to redevelop the Paradise Circus area were abandoned, and after the completion of John Madin’s Central Library, building work stopped.

Within a few years, the city council was deprecating its own masterplan, and describing the Inner Ring Road as a “concrete collar“. When Centenary Square was chosen as the site for a new central library — Francine Houben’s Library of Birmingham — it was claimed that the Madin library at Paradise Circus was structurally unsound. By demolishing it, the city centre could be transformed, with the creation of new vistas from Centenary Square to the council house and town hall.

I never bought the spin that the Madin library was structurally unsound, or that its demolition was intended to improve the urban environment or accessibility of the city centre. It always seemed much more likely that the site of the library complex was earmarked for whatever redevelopment would generate the most rent and rate income, i.e. lowest common denominator office/hotel/retail development.

In July 2011, the Birmingham Post reported that the city’s debts had doubled as a result of projects such as the Houben library and Birmingham Gateway. No other major English city has higher per capita borrowing.

Birmingham council and Argent (the developer of Brindleyplace) own large parts of Paradise Circus, and signed a two year exclusivity agreement in February 2009 “to prepare the way for the potential redevelopment” of the site. So, last week, it was not too surprising to find what the council had in mind: a collection of closely spaced generic office buildings, to maximise rental and rates income.

One of the major costs for the project will be the massive infrastructure investment and it is hoped that this will be funded through tax increment financing or TIFs. This effectively allows the project – which is being supported by the city council as a major landowner on the site – to borrow against the future business rates that would be raised by the scheme.

At the moment the site raises £1.5 million every year in business rates but the completed project would see this rise to around £20 million a year. The scheme will also be enhanced by falling within a proposed enterprise zone which offers various relief from tax and regulation.
The project is being led by Gary Taylor, a former managing director of Argent who recently launched his own development company called Altitude, as well as Argent project director Rob Groves, both of whom are quite clear about the challenges the site offers, both technically and reputationally.

Surely, if reputation were a key issue, Argent would not have put forward such a cynical proposal. Judging by plans put forward by other developers to create 21st century slums at Icknield Port, the crevice between aspiration and reality is turning into a chasm.

At the time of writing, the Paradise Circus development website states that the ‘recently extended’ February 2009 exclusivity agreement “binds the City Council and Argent to agree to negotiate solely with each other and not involve other parties”. Which is curious, because Altitude Real Estate LLP, established in 2011, appears to be a new party in the situation. According to Altitude’s website, its (ex-Argent) directors Gary Taylor and Stephen Tillman

will take forward Argent’s existing schemes at Paradise Circus in Birmingham and Ffos-y-Fran in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, fully supported by Argent which will retain a part ownership in both schemes. They have secured options to fully acquire Argent’s interest in Paradise Circus and also on assets in Argent’s residential land business which was set up by Tillman and colleague Robert Bolton.

Written by beleben

February 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Ed, David, and Thameslink

leave a comment »

David Miliband tweets about 300 jobsOn 17 June 2011, Labour MP David Miliband tweeted the “Great news of 300 jobs at Siemens in South Tyneside from new Thameslink contract”. The government had announced that Siemens of Germany was preferred bidder for the supply of new Thameslink rolling stock, rather than Bombardier’s Derby factory. Very little of the Siemens train would be built in Great Britain.

At its conference in September, his brother, Labour party leader Ed Miliband, took a rather different position.

But when I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain’s producers.

And don’t let anyone tell you that this is the anti-business choice.

It’s the pro-business choice.

Pro-business on the side of the small businesses who can’t get a loan.

Pro-business on the side of high value manufacturing that can’t build its business because of the short-termist culture.

Pro-business on the side of the British company losing out to its competitors abroad when their government steps in and our government stands aside.

And that includes companies like Bombardier and BAe systems.

Being sold down the river by this Government.

Wrong station

leave a comment »

Gareth Morgan appears confused about the details of HS2The Centro-led GoHS2 has announced that Birmingham’s young professionals have joined its campaign (it turns out that “Birmingham’s young professionals” means the Birmingham Future organisation, which claims around 500 members).

This isn’t much of a surprise, given that Birmingham Future was represented at the Biz4HS2 photo-opportunity in Victoria Square. And Gareth Morgan, “Chair of Birmingham Futures” (sic) appears in a video on the Biz4HS2 Youtube channel uploaded on 28 March 2011.

In the video, Mr Morgan says “If I know that I can just go down to New Street Station, jump on a train, and 45 minutes later, I’m in London, or an hour later, I’m in Leeds, I think it brings the country closer together”. But HS2 doesn’t involve New Street station; it would run from a separate dead-end station, at Curzon Street. And even with the second stage Y-network, Leeds would not be reached from London in 1 hour.

These misapprehensions don’t come as much of a surprise, either. I’ve noticed that many HS2 cheerleaders turn out to have little idea or understanding about things like “freed-up capacity”, time savings, or carbon emissions.

Rip-off at the doorstep

leave a comment »

Centrica plc (‘British Gas’) today announced that

its field sales agents will cease doorstep energy sales activity for an initial three-month period. This in line with a request to all suppliers made by Consumer Focus. The energy provider will now work with its customers and consumer bodies to develop the way it provides access to advice and information about its products and services, including the role of appointment based face-to-face advice.

Doorstep selling, in its current form, is an increasingly outdated way for energy companies to engage new customers who no longer regard it as a preferred or trusted way to review their energy arrangements.

British Gas has been reducing the use of doorstep selling for many years. The number of British Gas field sales agents is now less than a quarter of the 1,300 employed in 2006.

Adam Scorer, Director of External Affairs at Consumer Focus, said:

‘British Gas has responded to our call for action. We applaud the move and call for others to follow the lead set by British Gas and SSE. This is the sort of move that responsible companies make when it becomes clear that consumers are unhappy with the way they do business.

‘For over a decade cold call doorstep sales have led to hundreds of thousands of people paying more for their energy after switching to a worse deal. We know people strongly dislike doorstep sales, feel pressured to switch at the door and that energy firms don’t offer their best rates face-to-face. Cold call energy sales simply aren’t what customers need or want.

‘Energy firms have had years to get doorstep sales right. There have been plenty of well-intentioned commitments and initiatives to do things better, but they have failed to deliver the change that consumers want.2 Unless other energy firms realise the end of the road has been reached on cold call doorstep sales, mis-selling will continue to drive consumer mistrust even deeper. It also risks damaging consumer confidence and buy-in for key Government schemes, including the Green Deal and smart meter roll-out.

‘We would urge all consumers to think twice before they buy on the doorstep, shop around for the best deal, and take time to think things over before making a final decision.’

But British Gas seems to be reserving the right to resume such activity, if its competitors persevere with it.

The fact is, door to door utility salespersons have been scamming people across Britain for years, with many of them working for unscrupulous ‘marketing’ firms hired by the energy suppliers. It’s outrageous that they are allowed to call at the homes of confused old people, and sign them over to more expensive contracts.

Consumer Focus suggests that all consumers ‘shop around for the best deal’, but this is much easier said than done. The utilities companies have a plethora of different and complex tariffs, and equally complex terms and conditions. This makes the comparison of suppliers’ offers an extremely difficult task, probably beyond the capabilities of most people. So there needs to be a substantial amount of imposed tariff standardisation, in order that people can make informed choices between different suppliers’ quotes on the same product.

Written by beleben

August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm