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SANDWELL: MP criticises lumping Birmingham and Black Country together

SANDWELL: MP criticises lumping Birmingham and Black Country together

Shaun Bailey MP, Cons, West Bromwich West, in 2019

An MP has lambasted government officials for not knowing the location of the Black Country.

Shaun Bailey MP, West Bromwich West, was questioning officials from the department of culture, media, and sport (DCMS) in a meeting over a pledge to bring fast internet access to more homes.

In the public accounts committee evidence session – which Mr Bailey is a member – Paul Norris, executive chair of Building Digital UK, spoke about the supply of broadband and digital vouchers across major UK cities, including  Birmingham.

Mr Bailey asked: “Can I just ask about the Black Country? The Black Country is not Birmingham. I represent the Black Country. I don’t represent Birmingham.”

“The Black Country is the four Black Country boroughs, so that’s Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton, so what’s going on within those four boroughs. Birmingham is great but I don’t represent Birmingham.”

Mr Norris replied: “We would regionally class that as ‘predominantely urban’ in our classification.”

Mr Bailey then went on to ask: “Can I just ask – have you been to the Black Country?”

Mr Norris, stuttering, replied: “No, I haven’t had the pleasure.”

Mr Bailey continued: “I think the definition of urban is what is causing the issue here.  I’ve got parts of my constituency that are semi rural that have some issues. 

“I’m just trying to understand why Birmingham and the Black Country have been lumped together, has it literally just been a case of we’ve seen them close together on a map and gone [hand clap] or are there other factors?”

In the meeting, Susan Storey, director general for digital and media policy in the department for digital, culture, media, and sport, said the principles are “consistent right across the country”.

She said: “We absolutely appreciate why everybody wants their constituents to have fast broadband speeds as soon as possible. The principles that we apply are consistent right across the country, which is to look at these areas with the hardest reach patterns. […] It’s very much look at the area, apply our core principles, and work with the market.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mr Bailey said Westminster continues to have a “lack of understanding” about the Black Country’s geography and regional identity.

He said: “For too long Birmingham and the Black Country have been lumped together as one – what we yesterday saw at the evidence session clearly showed how that mindset is still present in Whitehall.”

“Whilst I appreciate there are legitimate reasons as to why DCMS has allocated Birmingham and the Black Country together for the roll out – there is still clearly a lack of understanding about the Black Country’s geography and regional identity.

“Since being elected, I have fought to put the Black Country, and indeed its heart and soul, Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, back on the map.

“I will continue to do so, until every man and child knows that Birmingham is not the Black Country, and the Black Country is not Birmingham.”

Words: Rhi Storer, Local Democracy Reporter


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