David Kuczora: Silly Season diary
We are, thankfully, in the last days of Silly Season; this time of year so monikered as it's when Parliament rises, so (traditionally) there are few policy stories emanating from Westminster. The national press has little political hard news to get its teeth into, so there are reams of pages and rolling news channels to fill with fluff. A PR practitioner's dream, you'd be forgiven for thinking.
Not quite. Anyone with kids has a break for at least two-weeks at some point during August. Child Protection forces are duty-bound to intervene if you don't. What it does mean is that Sod's Law occurs. Frequently. The single journo who writes Sprocket Weekly who's been chasing you for a particular angle on a story is away at just the time you get the information he's been hankering at. And you just *know* that a morning telly news show will want your client for tomorrow just as said client has turned on their out of office. If you think placing those "fluff" stories is easier for us flacks during Silly Season, think again. But then a change is as good as a rest, yes?
"Who'd want to be Amey right now?" asks my lunch companion, a reasonably-placed wonk within Birmingham City Council. He's bang on. All eyes are on them as the tunnel works culminate. The view from that red bridge which traverses the Queensway from CBD to the JQ has been a picture of calm every time I've crossed it recently. And I've been commuting by car into the city most days during August and the run has only been delayed once, when a coach broke down on Dartmouth Circus.
But here's the challenge. Amey must finish the project on time. We shrugged our shoulders with typical British despondency when Wembley Stadium wasn't finished to schedule. But things have changed. The London 2012 Olympic Park was finished on time and under budget, we're told. And the new Library of Birmingham is already giving press tours to selected blogerati (I'm assuming my invite was lost in the post...) The line in the sand has been drawn. Big construction projects now need to finish when their patricians first promised they would. As the schools start back and the whole city returns from the summer holiday, let's hope the first week in September doesn't bring the mania on the roads those naysayers predicted when the tunnels closed. Now where are those new figures on the cost of HS2?
Talking of economic projections, Graeme Chaplin from the Bank of England gave a presentation to Birmingham Future last Thursday evening on the state of the economy. Their graphs don't offer a singular prediction, but a main broad 30% probability arc followed either side by two other 30% probability regions. I popped a mini-aspirin at that point. What's clear is that by mid-2014 pretty much anything could have happened in terms of both inflation and economic growth. My colleague Chris, who likes a wager, turned to me at this point and said "wow, they're really hedging their bets aren't they?"
Personally, I'm bullish. That's the Wall Street Wanker term for optimistic, right? My own experience is that looking round this city, construction projects are beginning to get underway in the private sector with some genuine vigour once again. There's no doubt gargantuan public-sector projects like the work at Aston University, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham City University at Eastside and Queen Elizabeth Hospital have helped ensure our city's construction industry subbies on their hands and knees fitting kit haven't collapsed entirely during this recession. But a good number of more modest commercial projects around the city have had their pilot lights lit recently. Could we finally be seeing green shoots in the construction sector?
By the time I left the Bank of England event, I'd missed some informal drinks set up by the city's young Tories to welcome Cristie Bowcher-Royce. She's the newly appointed campaign manager for Northfield. I caught up with her yesterday, however, and don't let your double-barreled prejudice get the better of you. She's no Sloany trust-fund girl foisted in on a Gap Yahhh. It's more than 18 months til the 2015 election, but the Conservatives will be fighting hard in Birmingham.
A friend of the editor of this venerable organ once joked that "Birmingham will be great once it's finished." With that quip in mind, farewell to Silly Season 2013. It's been a blast. Let's get back to work and carry on creating this city.