Brum scrubs off the muck to reveal EC brass: No expense is being spared to impress the summiteers, due to arrive in Birmingham this week, Mary Braid reports

POOR old Birmingham, said the southern cynics. The week before the city hosts the European summit, its councillors were caught pleading (in vain) with estate agents to take down a forest of 'For Sale' signs lest the European ministers rumble the recession.

Other attempts to prettify the city include politeness seminars for taxi drivers and a 'Bin it for Birmingham' campaign, allowing every Brummie to do his bit by picking up litter. Poor old Brum, they said, out of her depth, her league and perhaps even her mind. What, they wondered, possessed John Major to choose such a godforsaken spot for the conference?

The city council denies it is trying to create a false impression. The saleboards were simply untidy, and what is the matter with a city putting on its best clothes for important visitors?

Certainly, this weekend parts of the city centre resemble a building site, with council workmen on overtime laying new paving, planting flowers and scrubbing graffiti from the underpasses. But Sir Richard Knowles, leader of the Labour-controlled council and a committed federalist, is in buoyant mood. An old-fashioned socialist, he believes Birmingham can spend its way out of recession. And it is Europe's money he is spending. The EC has provided pounds 200m in grants in the last eight years. London's surprise at the Birmingham summit is sour grapes, he says. 'Who wants to run an exhibition these days in those old clapped-out concrete sheds down in London?'

Vincent Hanna, the television journalist recently recruited to overhaul the city's public relations, insists that incredulity at Birmingham's fitness to stage the summit is based on a hopelessly outdated image of the city. Those who still consider it the victim of the worst excesses of 1960s planners and more recent urban decay have not visited Birmingham in the past few years. It is not just the English who take such a view. Last year the French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Birmingham children steal cars in much the same way as their fathers once made them.

So tomorrow when the first of 3,000 specially-designed 'EC-Birmingham' flags is hoisted, the city will be seeking to change that old-fashioned perception and show off a new Birmingham - one made possible by the EC money. The summit, which begins on Friday, is being held in the new pounds 160m convention centre and symphony hall at one end of Centenary Square, an impressive open space which is the focus of the restyled and pedestrianised city centre. The largest indoor athletics arena in Britain, costing pounds 51m, is the latest addition to the city centre.

Graham Allen, the council's assistant director of public affairs, said: 'The council has played the Euro- game better than any other city in the UK and has made a lot of money.'

Mr Hanna agrees. 'It is Europe which has put money into Birmingham. The British Government has done sod all for the city.'

The message has already started to get home. Birmingham was apparently chosen for the summit thanks to the favourable impression formed by the former Heritage Minister, David Mellor, who brought the EC's culture ministers to the city recently.

But Mr Hanna says the quality of facilities and the high security offered by the new Birmingham were crucial considerations. The pressure of time was also a factor. 'Nobody else could have pulled this off in 23 days.'

Of course, the summit is a chance for Birmingham to make money. Seventeen hotels are already fully booked and the whole event is expected to bring in pounds 750,000 in three days. Terry Higgs, secretary of the Taxi Owners Association, says that his members are less than impressed by the politeness seminar, but that they 'will be most interested in how much money they can make while these people are over here'. The city will present the 2,000 visiting journalists with bronze medals, presumably in gratitude for their coverage and their cash.

To the council, it is the greatest confirmation so far that its multi-million- pound regeneration strategy is working. With unemployment at around 17 per cent and the release last week of one of the gloomiest-ever economic surveys in the West Midlands, it has to. The strategy is based on the assumption that improving an ugly city centre and building state-of-the-art conference facilities is a pre-requisite to economic renaissance.

Local people seem to be proud of the new facilities, but there are barbed observations about the gap between image and reality: 'They have prettied up the walk between New Street Station and Centenary Square so your eye is guided away from the ugliness,' says one man. 'It is OK as long as you stay on the beaten track.'

A woman in a smart suit smiles at the temporary building site that was Victoria Square. Here Britain's largest civic fountain is being erected. Unlike much of the work, it won't be finished in time for Friday. 'That does not matter,' she says. 'The European ministers will not see that.'

Council officials seem just as aware of the gulf between image and reality. Many of the 3,000 'EC-Birmingham' flags are being used to improve the look of the roads from the airport to the city centre. For security reasons, the police will not tell them which route will be used. But the council is covered. 'We are decorating four or five possible routes,' said Mr Allen.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore