I’m not entirely sure what to make of the news that Birmingham only manages to make 14th on the list of the most cultured local authority areas of the UK.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, London boroughs dominate the top of the list compiled by Local Futures but possibly the bad news for Birmingham is that Manchester breaks the capital’s stranglehold of the top 10 by coming in at eight.

It is undoubtedly an interesting exercise in assessing Britain’s cultural credentials – Oxford is placed ahead of Birmingham; Liverpool makes it to 16th during its year as Capital of Culture; whilst Nottingham is ahead of Newcastle.

The report has led Local Futures to warn that many parts of the country are in danger of being left behind because they don’t offer a good quality of life. As a result, they claim, these areas will struggle to attract talented people.

The study cites Fenland (Norfolk), Torfaen (South Wales) and Corby (Northamptonshire) as among the worst for facilities such as shops, good parks and sports stadiums.

But Local Futures also admits to using “fairly crude measures” in compiling the facts and figures used to draw up the cultural map.

When you look at some of the “cultural facilities” they used to base the study on – such as theatres and Michelin-starred restaurants, national heritage sites, the proportion of people employed in hotels and tourism, the number of cafés run by big chains, parks with green flag (quality) awards, sports arenas and shops – then it seems surprising that Birmingham doesn’t fare any better than 14th.

The release of the map comes a few days after it was revealed Birmingham faces losing one of the city’s live music landmarks, to make way for a development that would possibly include hotels, restaurants (possibly Michelin-starred) and the type of cafes run by big chains.

The argument is whether the cultural profile of the city is enhanced by a pub like the Flapper & Firkin, which is regarded as a launchpad for new bands who go on to enjoy national and international success. Or, whether it is found in the type of development which, in many respects, is a carbon copy of the type of schemes that can increasingly be seen in other cities and major towns.

I think I’d chose saving the Flapper & Firkin and preserving some of the individual character of the city.

Of course, you could just ignore such lists and maps.

However, Local Futures maintains the data should be used by local authorities to “help create a vision for their area’s future and to help them consider what they can do to make their areas more attractive”.

Now that is a good reason to start worrying.


3 responses »

  1. […] Birmingham fails to make cultural top 10 Paul Groves doesn’t know what to make of what purports to be a list of the UK’s ‘most cultured local authority areas’. Neither do I. Birmingham comes in 14th behind a slew of London authorities and Manchester […]

  2. dp says:

    It is odd, if not perverse, that ‘culture’ seems to be defined by the very things that have been criticised as contributing to Clone Town Britain.

    I’d ask what sources they use to define quality of life, culture, etc., and I’d ask whether a strong local sense of identity is a key trait. One might also ask what it takes to develop that sense of identity.

  3. Paul Groves says:

    dp: If this type of data is used by local authorities, as Local Futures suggest, then it does go some way to explaining why we have Clone Town Britain. It does worry me that such a snapshot could be used to determine such big decisions.
    As for identity, The Guardian’s recent search for Birmingham’s cafe culture might have excited BCC and Marketing Birmingham as it included so many of the usual suspects. But it wasn’t necessarily a reflection of the culture many of its residents would have recognised.

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