Greater Manchester mayor talks tech, tomorrow’s generation and public transport to North West business leaders
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, spoke at a recent business leaders event hosted by Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group and shared his thoughts and plans for the city region with some of the most influential finance, legal and accounting specialists in the area. He looked back at some of his key successes to date and discussed his plans for what will come and their impact on Manchester’s economy.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham and Rik Heap, director at Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group
Key achievements so far
In the two years since he was elected as the city-region’s first ever mayor, Burnham cited one of his greatest achievements to date as being the successful implementation of the flagship A Bed Every Night scheme, which aims to bring to an end the need for rough sleeping in all Greater Manchester boroughs.
A £6million funding package for phase II has just been announced - commissioning 400 places up to June 2020, which marks a substantial increase on the 300 beds previously available as well as improving the quality of support received. "For the first time in eight years the number of people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester is coming down," he said. "There are around 300 people in our hostels every night, that isn't happening in any other UK city."
It’s been made possible by the people of Greater Manchester coming together - along with the city’s sports stars, high-profile musicians, businesses, charities, public sector, faith and community groups - in a massive, collective show of support. It’s a partnership built on devolution, where people are unified by place, which means Burnham is supported by all sides of politics.
He continued: “Because Westminster is so London-centric, a devolution from it has brought with it a devolution of unfairness.” He said at the time of his election in May 2017 that "Greater Manchester is going to take control” and it’s clear from his session with Leonard Curtis that nothing will get in his way.
Driving the Northern Powerhouse during a time of political chaos
Former chancellor George Osborne launched the “Northern Powerhouse” in 2014, the objective being to improve prosperity by raising the North’s poor economic performance compared to the south and south-east of England. This drove the devolution deal with Manchester, which has come to represent a period of change that will rebalance the country. “Something needed to happen to change the way the country functions,” Andy told guests.
Two and a half years on from being elected and it is beginning to happen. Changes must, in some part, be linked to the chaos in Westminster, where the system is “dysfunctional” and it’s “all about point scoring and clashing.” Burnham said he believes this chaos means we’re being held back, but yet “crisis can bring opportunity,” according to Burnham. “We’ve got a tough couple of months ahead and then we’ll see some serious moves with the economy.
“Even if the country is a little confused,” he continued, “we have a very clear strategy.”
Clear to point out that he is “not radical” but rather “very patriotic,” he said that he is keen to devolve as much power out of parliament as he can. “Let us sort out our jobs, healthcare, education and skills policies.”
Focus on youth
A whole host of policy areas that have been successful in other parts of the UK and failed in the North West were touched upon. “The university system doesn’t work in Greater Manchester. 50% of young people can’t see where school is taking them as there isn’t an alternative to university. We need to provide for those who don’t want to go to higher education yet at the moment they can’t see another route.”
His commitment to young people in the city goes further than this. One commentator said that he has “tied up his political future to the success of a number of policies aimed at improving opportunities for young people in the city.”
Only this summer, a revolutionary scheme called Our Pass was introduced - a bus pass granting free travel across Greater Manchester for 16 to 18-year olds. It costs £10 to register and brings with it other freebies such as tickets for the likes of the Hallé Orchestra, free entry to sports matches and free sessions at youth clubs. Leisure centres are also giving away free access to gyms and pools.
Young people aren’t using public transport in Manchester because of its high cost and disjointed service. Single bus journeys in the city can cost young people £4. In London, by contrast, the “Hopper fare” allows unlimited bus journeys of up to one hour for £1.50 - any passenger, any age. Those under 16 in London can travel on buses free of charge, while 16 to 17-year olds pay half price. Burnham is working hard to open up Greater Manchester to the next generation - giving them hope to where they’re going.
It’s a very different approach to most political parties who, knowing older people tend to vote, target them with the likes of free bus passes and TV licenses - to the detriment of young people. “But you can’t build a strong society on this,” explained Burnham.
Public transport as a priority
Another key focus is to create a London-style integrated transport system in Manchester. It’s the “biggest thing that Greater Manchester needs.” Because if we don’t address transport and skills, they’ll be barriers moving forwards.”
“Metrolink is the thing I run,” said Burnham at the event. “It’s not perfect, but it runs as by far the best of the city’s public transport services because we’re here and support it.” A key focus is currently bus reform, with the intention of introducing a model similar to London. Proposals would help to make public transport less "fragmented and unreliable.”
As for Northern Rail, it’s no secret that the metropolitan mayor is keen to “strip Northern Rail of its franchise.” Calling the rail industry “frankly a disgrace” during the Leonard Curtis event, Burnham said that after trying to work with Northern for two years, he feels that “they don’t care enough and don’t feel enough pressure to listen to customers.” However, he did say how pleased he was to be the person that GM commuters can now complain to - his Twitter account is inundated with daily grumbles - and he’s keen that GM Rail will “click in” as the next stage of plans that will hopefully see an integrated Oyster-type public transport system introduced in Greater Manchester in the next three years - putting buses, trains and trams into a single system so that journeys become seamless.
UK cities on the world stage
Another key driver for the UK economy is city to city relationships. “The fact is, if you go to the US, cities have much more clout. English cities outside of London are nowhere near punching their weight on the world stage. If we were freed up, we’d be doing so much more.”
Town centres of the future
Another very recent introduction that Andy discussed at the event was the launch, last month, of Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC).
Another national first, Stockport MDC is a joint initiative between the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Homes England and Stockport Council. They’ve come together to tackle the challenges that town centres face, and it will lead the creation of a new urban village with up to 3,500 new homes and up to 1million ft2 of employment floorspace incorporating a mix of office, workshops, retail and leisure and health and education that could accommodate up to 5,300 jobs.
Burnham said that “lots of GM towns would be suitable for an MDC, including Rochdale, Stalybridge, and Swinton to name just a few.”
It’s a great way to address housing and employment crises - creating homes and jobs near public transport - eliminating the need for cars. And, with the support of Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman and his Made to Move report, which sets out the 15 steps required to transform Greater Manchester into one of the best places in the world to walk and cycle - the aim is to make active travel easy, attractive and safe.
Boardman is also involved in Greater Manchester’s City of Trees mission, which aims to create more green space by planting 3million trees across the city region - one for every person.
“It’s a whole new agenda in terms of town centres,” said Burnham. “They shouldn’t be all about pound shops.”
Moving to Manchester for diversity and growth
The great diversity of Greater Manchester, which is a key factor for many large, growing businesses was also discussed at the event.
It is the second city outside London for the number of languages spoken and, of course, staff salaries are lower here.
Burnham recollected how, as Culture Secretary, he “dragged the BBC to Manchester” to Media City and he believes that the Corporation is a “much better place” because of the move. It’s much more relevant and identifiable to more people in the UK - different people with different accents and beliefs now feature across all regions and shows. It’s important.
“As the UK Government is London-centric, lots of companies are too,” said Burnham. But the tide is certainly turning - the likes of Google, Amazon, Jaguar Land Rover, Virgin Media, Freshfields LLP and Microsoft have all opened offices in Manchester. With them come increased job opportunities to the city, which is establishing it as an economic powerhouse in its own right.
These steps and policies - as part of the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) - reinforce Manchester city centre’s position as the most significant economic location in the country outside London, whilst spreading the benefits of such success across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.
It’s a blueprint for economic growth, regeneration of the region’s towns, transport solutions to make travel simpler and housing ideas to meet various requirements in a speedy and affordable manner.
"Things are really happening here," concluded Burnham, which is why Manchester is Britain's best city for business. As a growing SME with national headquarters in Manchester city centre, Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group is very much looking forward to going on the journey with him.