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FANTASY BIRMINGHAM IN A DIFFERENT LEAGUE

11-10-2007

Boulton Watt and Murdoch

Two new surveys have ruffled Brummie pride - with the city apparently falling behind Manchester in terms of influence and as a place to do business. Never mind the league tables says Diane Benussi...just take each game as it comes.

So, Birmingham has fallen behind Manchester as the best city in the country after London to locate a business. The annual Cushman & Wakefield UK Cities Monitor, published last month, puts Manchester second behind London, with Birmingham third.

Another recent survey, for the BBC’s Inside Out programme, also delivered “bad” news for Birmingham, with 48 per cent of participants saying they believed Manchester to be the second most important city after London. Birmingham canvassed only 40 per cent of the vote.

However, Birmingham receives its fair share of plaudits, too. It has the best retail provision outside London, some of the best schools in the country and - according to yet another survey - ranks as the sixth lowest for crime out of 55 cities.

Phew, it’s exhausting and ever so slightly confusing, isn’t it? Trying to keep up with the constant flow of surveys and studies and what they supposedly tell us about the cities in which we live can tie our brains in knots if we let them.

More to the point, though, why are we so obsessed with league tables? Why does it seem to matter so much whether Birmingham is ranked first, third or 20th as the best place to shop, go to school, buy a house or set up a business? After all, these polls generally are carried out and responded to by men in suits who don’t know much, if anything, about Birmingham.

My hunch is that the current proliferation of unofficial lifestyle and business league tables is an extension of the country’s macho, competitive preoccupation with football. It’s a way of watching the Beautiful Game from the office.

League tables dominate the world of football and clubs’ fortunes depend on whether they can cling on to a place in the Premiership. Yet it’s interesting to note that diehard football fans doggedly support their chosen team regardless of where they are in whichever league. Birmingham-born broadcaster Adrian Chiles recently published a book called We Don’t Know What We’re Doing about his passion for West Bromwich Albion FC and the anguish he goes through when they’re not riding high in the league tables. But however badly they’re doing, he doesn’t switch his allegiance.

All of us who live and work in Birmingham know its strengths and weaknesses. We are pleased, of course, when it shows up well in a survey, but its performance in legal or lifestyle league tables doesn’t alter our perception of the city nor affect the way we lead our lives.

It concerns me that the nation’s growing addiction to league tables serves only to take our eye off the ball. If we’re continually trying to compete against other cities, we’re not focusing our attention on our own. And that, surely, is what matters. We want Birmingham to work for us first, and others second.

Perhaps we should follow the lead of a Cambridge graduate who launched a spoof website eulogising the tourist delights of “Porthemmet”, a palm-fringed Cornish beach where topless sunbathing is encouraged, that has received more than 6,000 hits.

Birmingham’s had the beaches, it has a waterfront and I’m sure we could exaggerate lots more attractions. That way we’d save time and effort trying to impress the rest of the country. After all, just like the Fantasy Premier League, it’s all fiction anyway.

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