It’s time to get on board High Speed Rail

Sahar Rezazadeh 6.00am

Like many decisive policies, the High Speed Rail link has received plenty of criticism and praise from all angles.

On the one hand, some oppose HS2 for being noisy and disruptive, and for failing to make good business, economic or environmental sense.

On the other hand, it is believed to be a vital investment in Britain’s future and paving the way for regeneration of Britain’s ailing infrastructure in order to assist growth, as David Cowan mentioned on these pages.

Critics and sceptics of HS2 have raised a number of alternatives - see here from Nik Darlington - but would they actually fulfill the prime objectives of High speed 2?

One of the principal objectives of HS2 is to provide additional transport capacity to cater for growth in demand, outlined by Stuart Baldock. Forecasts suggest that in 2043, approximately 136,000 passengers would travel on HS2 each day (46.2 million each year) on the section between Birmingham Interchange and Old Oak Common. Of the people forecasted to use HS2, 65 per cent would switch from existing rail services, 7 per cent from cars, 6 per cent from the air, while 22 per cent would be entirely new.

Furthermore, research by KPMG reported that HS2 would generate 22,000 jobs for the West Midlands and increase the region’s economic output by £1.5 billion per year.

The Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) response to the Department for Transport’s consultation was positive, outlining some of the key benefits of the Curzon Street Terminus in Birmingham. HS2 would act as a catalyst for the development of the Eastside Quarter of Birmingham City Centre, which is currently derelict industrial land and buildings.

HS2 will not only benefit London, as has been suggested by critics.

The ICE went further and said that a full ‘Y’ route would lay the foundations for a High Speed Rail network, improving connectivity and integration between major British cities and the European rail network.

A recent survey by Birmingham City Council found that the majority of residents living along the proposed new High Speed Rail link route in Birmingham are in favour of the scheme. More than half of respondents are in full support of the scheme and a further 8 per cent supported it but with qualifying comments.

There is a demand for HS2. My feelings are that the benefits far outweigh the costs and Britain’s infrastructure and particularly transport infrastructure has been lagging behind.  I say it’s time to get on board!

Follow Sahar on Twitter @SaharRezazadeh

Rap music plays a big part, but there is a lot else wrong with our Two Societies

Nik Darlington 10.50am

In the aftermath of this summer’s rioting, my Egremont colleague Sahar Rezazadeh wrote that music inspired gang culture has infected our streets.

The riots were a product of gang culture and nothing else. A gang culture that is inspired, encouraged and glorified by music, especially American rap music.

The rioting and looting that swept English cities had many causes and influences, though rap music and the gang culture it celebrates is undoubtedly one of them.

This is the argument given this morning in The Times (£) by Libby Purves, in an article that also offered a qualified defence of the historian David Starkey, whose ill-chosen but apt comments on Newsnight caused a brief media storm.

David Starkey was certainly an idiot to mention Enoch Powell, even though he was pointing out that Powell was wrong in his predictions, since it wasn’t black-on-white violence.

But when he said that in gang culture “white chavs have become black”, he was trying to sum up, in a pithy telly-debate way, something that everybody with ears knows perfectly well.

Listen to them on the bus, for heaven’s sake, or on the after-school trains in leafy suburbs. White kids who want to seem tough and cool do talk in Jamaican-Bronx patois, trying to sound black. A role model in this inauthentic imitation is the 53-year-old BBC disc jockey and all-white bishop’s son Tim Westwood.

…Also, in his defence, the reason Dr Starkey used the offensive word “chav” was that his fellow guest [Owen Jones] was plugging a book under that title. A clear nod towards him acknowledged that the word was the other man’s, not his.

…His comments on Newsnight were clumsy, the ensuing fracas with the other two (equally unqualified) speakers mishandled. But it would be a pity if his detractors, in their stumbling panic to announce their own non-racism, closed down all discussion of the animating lawless rhetoric of top rappers. We should not be forced to turn a blind eye, or respect gangsta material as a valid “culture”.

…Ideally, Dr Starkey should have come armed with quotations. It would have been a treat to hear him learnedly quote Gangstarr: “I make the moves, I’m never faking/ Cause the loot is for the taking.” Or B.I.G.: “I ben robbin muthaf*****s since the slave ships… I’m robbin’ bitches too, I wouldn’t give a f*** if you’re pregnant/ Give me the baby rings and the ‘I love Mom’ pendant.” Perhaps a line or two from Outsidaz: “Zee rob white guys with nice lives… I need trick money, quick money, get me real rich money… anything I wanna do, I goes and does it.”

…You reckon none of that has anything to do with the riots? That the rap culture had no influence on the twittish lad in Nottingham jailed for posting online “kill a million Fedz, riot til we own cities”? Of course gangsta rap isn’t the only reason for the riots. But it gave a language and a bravado to the hangers-on. Cultural historians should be willing to consider that, rather than pecking Dr Starkey to death like a shedful of panicking hens.

Or, to continue the bird analogy, doing like the the ostrich does and sticking your head in the sand at troubling but honest analysis. All of society - whatever that means anymore - has contributed to these developments via unrestrained economic and cultural liberalism.

Danny Kruger, a former adviser to David Cameron, put it brilliantly in an instant opinion piece for the FT (£).

London has an underclass (a hateful word to the people in it, but no worse, and more accurate, than “the poor”). To generalise brutally, they are un-nurtured, brought up in a microculture of neglect, arbitrary and erratic discipline, and love without its concomitant need for boundaries and good behaviour.

Meanwhile the wider culture - that is us - has abandoned virtue and adopted the ethics of indifference, dressed as liberalism. We have substituted welfare payments for relationships, rights for love, and the sterile processes of the public sector for the warm morality of living communities.

We can afford no longer to remain indifferent to the culture of gangs and rap music than we can to the twisted relationship between society and state. Or should that be societies and state? It is the condition of our Two Societies, and solutions to their problems, that Egremont will be focusing on in the coming days in a special series of features. I encourage you to watch this space.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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Music inspired gang culture has infested our streets

Sahar Rezazadeh 6.04am

If there is one thing that the events of the past few days has shown it is how out of touch some journalists, politicians and ‘community leaders’ really are with the issues affecting ‘disenfranchised’ communities and the lifestyles.

If we are to be serious about questioning the mayhem witnessed on our streets, then we have to be asking, what do these young people watch? What or who do they listen to? Who are their role models? Fundamentally, what is an outline of an average day or week in these young people’s lives?

The riots were a product of gang culture and nothing else. A gang culture that is inspired, encouraged and glorified by music, especially American rap music. To my knowledge, Katherine Birbalsingh has been the only commentator to point this out, stating that some teenagers are spending 7-8 hours each day watching the likes of MTV. Clearly she understands how this kind of music influences the lifestyles and decisions of some young people, including the disregarding of a school education.

The state school system is itself failing pupils, drowning their aspirations and neglecting to equip them with basic literacy as well as discipline. The playground bullies took to the streets this week. Schools had let them off lightly for their bad behaviour and now they think wider society will too.

Rampant materialism, promiscuity, power trips, sexualisation, violence and glorification of criminal activity are all prevalent themes. It always interest me that some young people in this country refer to police officers as ‘Feds’, which is again an example of how American gang culture is becoming an inspiration. Gang culture has been allowed to flourish in the UK for decades. Young people are led to believe that leading a rebellious life is the only way to achieve. It is the cool lifestyle preached by the music they listen to and in the modern ‘culture’ they consume.

Such themes hinder the attempts of teachers and parents to show young people the difference between right and wrong. Some of our communities are suffering from moral deprivation and if we are serious about getting to the bottom of it then it is time to face facts.

Anyone who denies that music or movies have no impact on attitudes and lifestyles should look at the scientific recommendations for pregnant women to play soothing classical music  for themselves and their child. Rowdy music has the opposite effect. There are a host of scientific studies showing the powerful impact music has on the brain and thus potentially on our actions.

It disappoints me to learn that the Government now wishes to look to the United States for anti-gang measures. The US’s failure to stamp out gang culture is infecting other countries, so why presume they have the solutions?

Writing on ConservativeHome recently, Simon Marcus is right: we need to listen to the children but we also need to note what the children are listening to.

Follow Sahar on Twitter @SaharRezazadeh

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The new Creative Industries Council is good mood music but can it deliver?

Sahar Rezazadeh 6.44am

The launch of the Creative Industries Council has received a good reception from leading heads of industry, such as the Music Industries Association, the Design Council, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and UK Music.

Chairing the new council are the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. It is anticipated that it will comprise representation from across the creative industries such as music, film, gaming, design and TV production. The Chancellor, George Osborne, has said that the purpose of the council is to ‘provide a voice for the sector with the financial community and coordinate action on barriers to growth…as well as access to finance, the CIC will look at other issues in the sector, which may include skills, export markets, regulation, IP and infrastructure.’

The UK’s creative industries face a host of challenges. Foremost is a lack of investment, which has handed an advantage to global competitors, mostly in the United States. Despite the fact that the music industry alone contributes nearly £5 billion annually to the UK economy and employs over 130,000 people, the growth potentials for creative industries go unrecognised.

The Chancellor and the Treasury recognise that investment possibilities are regularly misunderstood and financiers are ‘more likely to turn down a request for funding from a creative industry player than a company from another sector with a similar risk profile.’

Feargal Sharkey, former lead singer of The Undertones and now the head of UK Music, has pointed out that talent needs time and patience to develop over five years or more, but the eventual returns can be very beneficial to all stakeholders and the wider economy. Instead even when artists do attract investment their work can be compromised in the search for higher returns. Musical themes of sex and violence are invested in for quick profitable returns. Other themes and genres might be more narrowly appreciated but that shouldn’t mean they can’t be profitable long-term. In any case, the creative industries will be more successful when appreciated for their artistic worth as opposed to short-term financial gain.

Sharkey has outlined three key areas of attention for the UK music industry:

Help the creative sectors gain access to the financial and investment communities; develop the necessary education, skills and training; and enforce tougher copyright protection.

Given that almost 85 per cent of businesses in the creative and cultural sectors employ less than five people, independently focused measures will go a long way to supporting talented designers, artists and producers who are unable to get exposure for their work. Independent artists are squeezed out by the four major record labels.

Businesses in the creative sector play huge social and cultural roles. Music and film have massive influence. Creative industries also have enormous economic potential. For the next decade, we must ensure that British entertainment and design gets the investment it needs to showcase all our best talent to the world. Most industries have their own vested interests and the creative industries are no exception. It is important that we do not shut out the next generation of talented artists, producers, designers and innovators. The new Creative Industries Council is apposite mood music. Now it has to deliver.

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Budget gets glowing reception as George Osborne puts faith in enterprise

Sahar Rezazadeh 5.40pm

Yesterday’s Budget provided incentives for a private sector-led recovery, founded on enterprise and innovation.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, gave a real statement of intent that Britain is open for business. The response from business leaders up and down the country has been positive, with praise coming from road hauliers, technology firms, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, packaging companies, the British Chambers of Commerce, the video games industry, venture capitalists, and even celebrity Labour supporter Duncan Bannatyne.

George Osborne is in touch with the pressing issues of tax and regulation facing businesses in this uncertain economic climate. A host of measures outlined yesterday will have a positive impact on business prospects in the UK. The new Enterprise Zones will offer 100 per cent discounts on business rates, superfast broadband, and enhanced capital allowances where zones have a strong manufacturing focus.

David Raistrick, a manufacturing expert at Deloitte, commented: “This has been one of the most supportive budgets for manufacturing for some years and it will give the sector more confidence to invest and focus on growth.”

The first ten Enterprise Zones will be in the urban areas with the most need and potential, such as Birmingham and Solihull, Leeds, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Bristol, the Black Country and Sheffield.

Moreover, the reforms to the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts will have a substantial impact on SMEs, the engines of job and wealth creation across the country. VCs have been showing their support.

Increasing the EIS income tax relief to 30 per cent, doubling the annual investment level for individuals, and quadrupling the investment limit for companies are all measures favourable to attracting more trade and investment for British businesses. As Mark Florman, chief executive of BVCA, commented, these measures send out “a clear signal that Britain is the European home of enterprise.”

The doubling of Entrepreneur’s Relief is another positive step on the road to recovery. It will encourage more aspiration for growth and ensure that investors are rewarded for backing successful businesses.

Additionally, easing the regulatory burden on start-up companies by making many of them exempt from new domestic regulation for three years will enable these businesses to focus more on developing world-class, cutting-edge technology and expertise.

The UK will also have the lowest corporation tax in the G7, a further sign to the world that Britain truly is open for business.

George Osborne has delivered a Budget that will help British companies grow and encourage entrepreneurs. It is from here that a sustainable economic recovery will come.

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Could Britain’s cities export local government knowledge to the world?

Sahar Rezazadeh 3.45pm

On Thursday, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will meet to discuss the role of trade and investment in fostering economic growth. The session will focus specifically on the Trade Minister’s role, the Trade White Paper and the financing of trade promotion activities.

Yesterday, the CBI rightly urged the Government to concentrate on boosting exports, investment and jobs as part of a coherent growth strategy: something that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have been doing from the first days of the coalition government. David Cameron led a high level delegation to India within 77 days of becoming Prime Minister and George Osborne visited China to promote British companies, resulting in a host of auspicious deals.

A number of measures contained in the Trade White Paper were outlined early last month and welcomed by the Prime Minister. The aim is to give support to companies - particularly small firms - that are looking to sell in overseas markets.

Seeking out opportunities for British businesses is vital but I would like to raise another invaluable asset that we should be capitalising on more: knowledge.

Last October, Birmingham City Council and Abu Dhabi signed a Memorandum of Understanding based on the emirate’s desire to tap into the one thing that a local authority can do well - run a complex and diverse modern city. This is not only a commercial arrangement. Birmingham City Council has been able to showcase the city to ambitious Middle Eastern investors by offering advice to the Abu Dhabi government in setting up local government infrastructure. The inward investment opportunities from the Middle East could generate thousands of jobs.

Furthermore, it is projected that China will have 100 new cities by 2020, each with over 3 million people. These cities will need to be advised about systems, structures and processes in order to operate efficiently. Who better to offer this advice than successful British cities? Birmingham has been taking the lead but I look forward to hearing about similar trade links up and down the country.

As reductions in public sector spending continue, local councils should turn to other means of financing their city’s ambitions for long term growth and prosperity. It is absolutely vital that local councils begin to move towards a more self-sufficient structure without depending on ever-higher council tax and business rates.

Currently, local authorities depend on central government grants for 53 per cent of their revenue (on average). For some, the figure is nearer 75 per cent. This is not sustainable. More local innovation will lead to locally focused, responsible spending and accountability that facilitates better local policy, reflecting the needs of a city’s electorate.

Some of the most valuable knowledge and expertise that Britain possesses is residing in town and city halls up and down the country. In order to survive, grow and get the best value for taxpayers, and particularly for the majority that are the most dependent on public services, British cities will need to become more entrepreneurial and innovative. When we say that Britain is open for business, that must include Britain’s cities too.

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