Manchester City Council’s chief executive shares insights from her first 18 months in office

Monday, 24th September 2018

pro-manchester was delighted to welcome Joanne Roney to a sold-out lunch at The Bridgewater Hall on Thursday 20th September.

The event began with a speech from Joanne Roney, Manchester City Council’s chief executive, followed by a Q&A between her and pro-manchester chair, Alistair Cree.

Joanne candidly spoke of her 18 months in charge of our city council and looked ahead at what she hopes to achieve next.

Joanne outlined the biggest challenges she’s face in her 18 months in office:

  • 78,000 people have no skills in our city (one in four 50 – 64-year-olds have no skills)
  • There is a lot to be done at lower end of economy
  • Homelessness has seen a significant increase due to local housing allowance and benefit entitlement.
  • The private renting sector has also become unaffordable, which is leading to individuals and families facing eviction
  • Our city has some of the worst health outcomes in the country: “A lot of my time is spent on mitigating health and social care together to tackle health issues. People are not taking measures to protect themselves and our services aren’t giving them enough confidence to do this,” said Joanne.

So, what were Joanne’s highlights of the last 18 months?

  • 36% of graduates from Manchester are returning back to the area from other cities after graduation
  • There is an all-time high of 69% of graduates staying in city when they complete in our universities
  • 77% increase in jobs in the city
  • 18% increase in SMEs – particularly digital, technology and creative start-ups
  • Latest schools’ performance has improved massively with Manchester now at national average in English and Maths
  • 8% increase in teaching resource in English and Maths
  • Last year Manchester hit a record number of 1.3m international visitors
  • 27.8m people came through Manchester Airport
  • Big regeneration schemes are now underway including Mayfield’s 20-acre development creating a much-needed giant city park.

The State of the City Report, to be published in the next couple of weeks shows that the population of our city centre is growing. Currently at over 527,000, Joanne believes the city is on target to hit over 600,000 within the next decade.

A great achievement for the city, but what does this growing population mean for our city’s homeless

Housing was very much on the agenda throughout the lunch, with all questions from the floor centering around this all-important subject in our city at present.

Joanne said: “We shouldn’t label these people as “just homeless”, if you speak to people on the streets, they’ve had such enriched lives and have sadly been hugely unlucky with addiction, mental health or financially.

“We all have a role to play with boosting the confidence of the homeless and it’s something both myself and Mayor Andy Burnham are passionate about.

“Andy Burnham and I are hoping to introduce a Manchester living wage to try to prevent this. Having people in work but still in poverty is a drain on the economy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise the more disposable income people have, the more they spend, which benefits the economy.”

With the deadline for negotiations looming, it was no surprise that Brexit was on the agenda.

How is our city council planning for a no-deal Brexit?

“We have started planning for the worst-case scenario, we have to as a local government in order to protect the businesses in our city.

“We have already noticed there is a slowing down in some sectors – housing in particular. Investment deals are also slowing down as the government is consumed with negotiations.

“I think the biggest concern for us is the impact it is going to have on skills shortages in some sectors. We’ve been surprised at where these shortages have popped up. With the number of cranes in the sky, the large investments from developers in our city make it hard to believe we have a huge skills shortage in construction now.”

How is the region going to tackle skills shortages?

“Both myself and Andy Burnham are hugely passionate about the skills shortage too, which is extremely helpful when facing an issue like this head on.

“We are now looking at other routes. Particularly how we can engage with employers on apprenticeship level. We’re also speaking with schools as we want to pinpoint exactly where these career gaps we have surface.

“From the data we have, it is clear that some sectors are stronger than others. As well as the careers gaps widely spoken about in technology, we are also now starting to see them in construction (as mentioned earlier) and in hospitality too.”

It isn’t a secret that Joanne Roney was stepping into very large boots replacing Sir Howard Bernstein as our city council’s chief executive.

When asked about creating her own legacy and being a female in politics Joanne said: “I am experienced. A lot of people read about my appointment and thought: ‘where did she come from?’

“I have been in business for years – I have been in chief executive roles in Birmingham Sheffield and Wakefield and know my job inside out. I just didn’t know this city and learning the best way to connect was tough, but any new job is tough.

“Being a woman gives me many advantages, including the skillset women are graced with. My superpower is being underestimated and I love it.

“When following someone with the legacy of Sir Howard, Manchester City Council wanted to go for someone who brought something different, so I don’t think there are as many comparisons as there could have been. The city council now has a new narrative for someone very different to its previous chief executive and has someone who wears better shoes,” Joanne joked.

A closing remark from Joanne, for us summed up how people feel when they come to this great city.

As someone from Birmingham, what are Joanne’s thoughts on Manchester?

“I love this city’s energy, enthusiasm and the ‘getting stuff done’ mentality is amazing. If we could sell it in bottles, we’d make a fortune. The energy we generate is incredible. As a city council we do have a great network and it’s a network I’m very proud to be part of now.

“As for whether I think Birmingham or Manchester should be the country’s second city, I have to be diplomatic, but I am from Birmingham and live in Manchester…that may answer your question!”

Delegates at our lunch would rightly agree that Joanne was a fantastic guest at our lunch and one we will welcome to the stage at a pro-manchester event soon, no doubt.

To see our upcoming key events and lunches, click here.