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We should not have to lose name of Black Country

Wolverhampton | | Published:

What's in a name?

A lot, as it happens. It is an identity, a personality and when it comes to the names of places, they are the things that put them on the map.

There is currently no such place as Greater Birmingham.

But there might have to be if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister and fulfils a promise to hand billions of pounds over to so-called 'city regions'.

He says places like Wolverhampton and Birmingham will have to work together, but is fully aware of the issues surrounding names.

The people of Bolton do not consider themselves to be Mancunian. But they are lumped in with Greater Manchester.

And the people of Black Country boroughs already find themselves asked if they are Brummie on holiday.

The way that councils can access Mr Miliband's millions will be to create a joint authority. This idea comes almost 30 years since the abolition of the old West Midlands County Council, which lasted just 12 years and became a by-word for wasteful bureaucracy.

Four years ago Labour's last big devolution project, the regional development agencies such as Advantage West Midlands, were also scrapped because they spent too much on themselves.

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Birmingham has done well over the past few decades. It is a city transformed with the biggest library in Europe, an attractive canalside and is currently getting a £600 million train station built.

The Black Country has had little more than the crumbs off the table, by comparison.

Wolverhampton, lumped in with the Black Country but a distinctive and individual city in its own right, never got its £176 million transport interchange, just a bus station.

So Mr Miliband and David Cameron must both be prepared to accept a certain degree of cynicism when it comes to their respective promises to revive the Black Country.

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This is an area that has watched the investment flood into Birmingham while the towns have missed out.

No-one is clamouring for the return of West Midlands County Council. If anything, there are more people in areas such as Sandwell that would prefer to see the return of their former town councils. Swallowing the Black Country and its diverse array of towns into one big region named after Birmingham will do it no favours. Investment is essential if the Black Country is to survive and thrive.

But it should not have to sacrifice its very identity to get it.

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