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I am an experienced online journalist and political editor working for Trinity Mirror papers in the West Midlands and the North East, based in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster.

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Political Editor Jonathan Walker gets David Cameron’s views on the regional economy, high speed rail, the cabinet reshuffle and a lot more in this exclusive interview.

Birmingham should be “optimistic” about its future thanks to its successful businesses, excellent universities, planned high speed rail line and possible airport expansion, according to David Cameron.

cameron

The Prime Minister also said he hoped to devolve more cash and power to the city – following a “city deal” agreed by the Government and the local authority earlier this year.

He was speaking during an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post during a visit to the city.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Cameron:

  • Pledged that Birmingham Airport’s expansion plans would get a fair hearing in the Government’s aviation review.
  • Dismissed claims from the Chief Fire Office of the West Midlands that funding cuts were putting lives at risk.
  • Defended the decision to strip Virgin Trains of its West Coast Main Line franchise, and urged the rail company to accept the decision.
  • Conceded that his recent reshuffle may have been “unfair” on former ministers such as Meriden MP Caroline Spelman who lost their jobs, but insisted he had to make changes to his team.
  • Described Birmingham’s £1.5 billion “city deal” as part one of a process of devolving money and responsibility from London to local councils and businesses, with part two to follow.

Mr Cameron has made a point of highlighting the success of Midland firms such as Jaguar Land Rover, which has plants in Birmingham and Solihull, in recent Commons appearances.

But I put it to him that parts of Birmingham still have extremely high levels of unemployment, and the constituencies of Birmingham Ladywood and Birmingham Hodge Hill have the two highest unemployment rates in the country. What will Mr Cameron’s government do to create jobs?

The Prime Minister said: “Birmingham needs a private sector recovery. We are not going to get a recovery by pumping more money into the public sector. We need a rebalancing. We need the public sector to retrench and the private sector to grow.

“That’s the only long term success story that there can be.”

"We need the public sector to retrench and the private sector to grow."David Cameron

Mr Cameron added: “One of the most remarkable statistics is that during the boom years, up to 2009, although the economy overall was growing, the number of private sector jobs in Birmingham and the West Midlands actually went down.

“It’s important to bear in mind that the last period of economic growth didn’t really see a bigger private sector in the West Midlands.”

But he stressed: “All is not doom and gloom. If you take the West Midlands as a whole there are 30,000 more people in work than there were a year ago. You’ve got these individual, very important manufacturing stories, like Jaguar land Rover which is part of a recovery of the automotive industry across the country, and a lot of it has always been based here in the West Midlands.

“I think what the Government has got to do, along with the city council and business, is to invest in the long term infrastructure that will make Birmingham and the West Midlands a success story.”

Mr Cameron highlighted the “city deal” signed between the Government and the City Council earlier this year, which could create 10,000 jobs and includes the creation of a new investment fund for Birmingham called GBS Finance, which will include £1.5 billion in private sector funding.

He referred to this as “stage one” of the city deal – and hinted there would be more to come.

“What we’re doing is creating the city deal – stage one is under way and I’m looking forward to stage two – where the city is able to exercise more power and get more things done.

“On the Government’s part, we are putting in about a billion pounds of infrastructure spending, obviously including Birmingham New Street but including quite a lot of other transport programmes as well.

“So I would argue there is quite a lot of long term investment in infrastructure, in skills, in giving Birmingham City Council and Local Enterprise Partnerships the power they need.”

The city deal had been discussed when the Prime Minister met Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore, a Labour politician, in a joint delegation with senior local Tories and Liberal Democrat councillors recently. “I thought what was very promising was that you saw all the parties working together, you saw the council and the MPs working together, you saw the private sector involved.

“And the message is simple – you’ve got the city deal, we’ve shown our good faith in devolving power and responsibility in ‘city deal one’ and I think there’s lots of opportunities for ‘city deal two’ to go even further.”

High speed rail and the potential expansion of Birmingham Airport would boost the city in years to come, Mr Cameron said.

“I am optimistic. Think of the future where you have got HS2 connecting Birmingham to London in a really short time frame. You’ve got an airport review that could see further expansion at Birmingham Airport. “You’ve got great universities at Birmingham, and then these great world-leading businesses like Jaguar Land Rover.

“It’s a tough time, but if we make the right long-term decisions we can have a successful second city.”

The Government has launched a review of UK aviation which is seen by many as paving the way for airport expansion in the South east.

But the terms of the airport review had been written specifically to ensure regional airports such as Birmingham were included, Mr Cameron said.


“Actually we re-wrote the terms of it, to make sure that the review does look beyond the South east.

“Clearly there is a south east issue here, which is the country’s hub status and clearly we have to ask questions about how we maintain hub status.”

Mr Cameron said Birmingham Airport had a bright future, partly because of the planned high speed rail line known as HS2, which will cut journey times between the airport and central London to just 38 minutes.

“We shouldn’t ignore what regional airports can provide and also Birmingham Airport post HS2 will be an interesting proposition. It certainly is included in the review.”

Mr Cameron also waded into the ongoing row between the his government and Virgin Trains, which is taking the Department for Transport to court after it lost the franchise to run inter-city services on the West Coast Main Line – warning that they should “respect the outcome” of the franchise contest.

The legal challenge has prevented the Department from signing contracts with new operator FirstGroup, which is due to take over services on December 9. I asked whether the row would be resolved in time for the new franchise to begin running as planned.

Mr Cameron said: “I think it will be resolved. I have to be careful what I say, there are all sorts of processes and procedures. But basically I think the process is now working to deliver what people want, which is investment and services and more people using our railways.

“What the winner of this particular franchise was offering was more services, more seats, some fare reductions and also billions of pounds to the taxpayer as well. Now, if you don’t have a franchise process you can’t try to capture those benefits.” His Cabinet reshuffle, which saw former Transport Secretary and HS2 supporter Justine Greening moved to a new department, did not mean any shift in the Government’s support for HS2, he said. “I want to see it built. I have always been a fan of high speed rail.”

Referring to the existing high speed line linking London to the Channel Tunnel, known as HS1, he said; “I have seen what the HS1 line through Kent has done for that area. High Speed Rail can transform economies.

High speed rail can transform economiesDavid Cameron

“Lots of things have been tried in regional policy and some things have worked a bit and some things haven’t worked at all, but one thing that absolutely works is transport arteries that can get the economic blood flowing.”

The recent reshuffle meant a new job for Birmingham MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), who became Chief Whip, but Meriden MP Caroline Spelman was fired from her job as Environment Secretary. I put it to Mr Cameron that some people believed Mrs Spelman, who was widely blamed for unpopular plans to private forests, had been treated unfairly.

The Prime Minister appeared to agree, saying: “Reshuffles are unfair. Caroline Spelman did a very good job at Defra. I think there’s a lot she can be proud of in her record. The truth is you have to move some people on in order to bring in new talent. It’s a very difficult process. I think Caroline was very understanding.”

Praising Mr Mitchell, he said: “You need a really tip top whips office and I think that’s exactly what he will provide. Focus and drive and dynamism.”

Public spending cuts have been controversial not only because of their impact on jobs but because of the effect on public services – not least West Midlands Fire Service, which has had central government funding cut by 12.5 per cent.

Mr Cameron rejected the warning of the Chief Fire Officer, Vijith Randeniya, who told MPs at the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that lives would be put at risk if the cuts continued at the same level.

Mr Cameron said: “I will certainly look at it. Fire services have done a good job in terms of education. I think efficiencies can be made without there being any threat to life.”

“Birmingham has had to take its share of reductions. Overall I think the reduction in spending power is about four per cent overall, which is about the same as nationwide.

“Funding per person in Birmingham is over £600, compared to an average nationwide of something like £500. In my constituency its only £240 a head.

“Everyone is having to bare their share of a difficult spending situation. What I have found looking around the country at local government, at police, at fire, is that they have managed to do it.

“Just as businesses have had to trim their costs every year but provide a good service, local government has to do the same.”

Read more: http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2012/09/14/david-cameron-birmingham-has-a-bright-future-ahead-of-it-65233-31835443/2/

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About me

Jonathan Walker Political Editor of the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail, Sunday Mercury, Coventry Telegraph, Newcastle Journal, Newcastle Chronicle and Sunday Sun.

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Email jonathan@walkerjon.com (but please send press releases to my work email which is
jon.walker@trinitymirror.com, as this is the email I monitor during working hours).

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