An evening with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham

Thursday, 4th April 2019

Blog by Ilona Alcock, Sector Group Manager, pro-manchester

Sam Booth, Chief Executive of pro-manchester, opened the event, thanked Bridgewater Hall for hosting and introduced the first elected Mayor of Greater Manchester, Mr Andy Burnham.

Kicking off the interview, Sam asked if, almost two years in, the role was what he had expected and if he had the powers he needed. Andy joked that he thought he was signing up for a quieter life! It is actually more exhausting, but in a good way. He believes the role is needed as it provides a focal point for the city region.

Unsurprisingly for those who have heard Andy speak before, transport is top of his wish list for further powers. Whilst he can help get additional national news coverage we are still working with a fragmented system, with our trains, highways and buses all with different regulations. Manchester is a successful, impressive city: transport is the big reputational issue.

From a more personal perspective, Andy cites homelessness as the biggest challenge we face. It is a crisis and requires all sectors – business, faith, charities – to work together. There is a long way to go but Andy is proud to say that 380 are sleeping inside tonight who wouldn’t have had a bed this time last year, or in other cities across the UK. The Bed Every Night scheme is not perfect but it is helping to galvanise action.

Asked if he regrets stating he aimed to end rough sleeping by 2020, he was emphatic that it is important for politicians to stop hedging their bets and leaving wriggle room. Big, inspiring statements will lead to more action and a desire to do things differently.

Sam took the opportunity to highlight the incredible work of the Booth Centre, who are present tonight as pro-manchester’s charity of the year. Andy praised the impact The Booth Centre and other inspiring organisations in this space, such as The Mustard Tree, Coffee4Craig and Tackle4MCR, are having in the city. He called on individuals and businesses to continue their generous financial support of these causes.

In addition, further focus is needed at the end of the journey. Manchester is launching “Housing First” which will offer housing plus wrap around support. Businesses across the region can support by offering jobs and opportunities and making recruitment processes more inclusive.

Without focusing on Brexit, what is London’s view of Manchester? Andy has seen attitudes change significantly. We have surprised them with what we have achieved and they understand that the North is essential to the country’s success. People think Andy is anti-capital: he’s absolutely not. He just wants to see more equitable division of investment and believes Westminster created Brexit by not treating everyone equally. The answer cannot come from Westminster. It must lead to further devolution.

Sam asked what more business can do to help the North get further powers and investment. Andy reassured delegates that as a city we’re already doing it and leading the way in business and politics working together. By coming together to build the case for the North, as we have done for transport, it becomes much harder to be ignored. It is the start of a new style of politics that puts place first and enables engagement. Andy is delighted to be here, in the city we all love, rather than down in Westminster tonight.

pro-manchester recently hosted a Trailblazing Tech conference with speakers from The Hut Group, GCHQ and Hewlett Packard Enterprises who are all moving to Manchester. What do you consider to be Manchester’s biggest strengths? The people are our biggest asset. We have shown our spirit and values. We are proudly diverse and gain our strength from that. GCHQ are open in their desire to draw from that workforce.

Sam noted that whilst her conversations with members show a huge support for Andy, social media can tell a very different story. He has been a politician for a long time, including forming part of Gordon Brown’s cabinet, and accepts criticism is part of the job. Twitter has changed everything: you get bruised on a much more regular basis! One of the advantages of this role over Westminster is that he doesn’t have to put a spin on policies but can be open and honest with the public. To those wondering if he intends to return to Westminster, perhaps as Labour leader, he confirms that he has no intention of running a third time and will be standing for re-election as Mayor in 2020.

Opening out to the audience, Chris Peacock – Head of Grayling Manchester, asked about the relationship between a Tory government and Labour leaders across Greater Manchester. Andy will happily work with anyone who wants the best for Manchester. He advocates less point scoring and more collaboration.

What about the Northern towns rather than the city? Andy agrees these have been left behind and the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework aims to shift development from greenbelt to regeneration. Stockport is the first to prove the concept of town centre living leading to a wide range of public benefits.

Andy recently hosted the second Green Summit, attracting 1700 delegates and a wide range of speakers. Greater Manchester has officially committed to becoming zero carbon by 2038. This is natural position for Manchester: we have always been industrial and social pioneers. As early adopters of both decarbonisation and digitalisation, Manchester will attract national and international interest. The new local industrial strategy echoes these key focuses: materials and advanced manufacturing; health innovation; digital and tech and low/zero carbon.

Part of the Mayor’s responsibility is crime, what is happening with funds available? First, Andy reiterated there are simply not enough funds available. Increases in council tax will be used to recruit more police to ensure a strong response to street crime, hate crime and retail theft. Greater Manchester is recruiting for the first time in 8 years and also working to improve the 101 line.

Crime though is a symptom of the fact we are not focusing enough on our people, particularly our young people. Many teenagers do not have a hope for their future and education can be too focused on university. From September, Greater Manchester is funding an Opportunity Pass for 16 – 18-year olds. This includes free bus travel across the region and free or discounted access to many amenities. It is an exciting time for the city but we will only have done our job when young people aspire to be a part of it.

Finally, Sam asked Andy about his decision to run the Boston marathon later this month. There is a strong bond between the two cities and he promised at a memorial event for the Arena victims to take part. He will be running in aid of the families’ charities and hopes it will help to build connections to combat the growing level of hate seen in some communities.

One last thank you to Andy for his time, and the formal part of the evening was over. The conversations between members continued over dinner, and we welcome your thoughts.