pro-manchester Lunch with Sir Richard Leese

Friday, 24th January 2020

Blog by pro-manchester Membership & Events Manager, Katherine Barr

Our sold-out Lunch with Sir Richard Leese at the fabulous King Street Townhouse started with a welcome from pro-manchester Chief Executive Sam Booth. Sam thanked headline sponsors Together for their support and welcomed Sir Richard to the stage.

Sir Richard began by admitting that, although it pains him to say it, we have a stable government for the first time in 10 years. There is now some certainty around Brexit but warns that if we leave with a deal it doesn’t mean that we won’t end up with a ‘no deal Brexit’ in the long run. The short transition period means that there is still a risk of no deal and it’s worrying that the government has stopped all preparation for a ‘no deal Brexit’.

In terms of how the North will be affected by the changes in government, a lot of them may be quite radical but may not have much of an impact on us. Sir Richard pointed out that the promises the Conservative party made to the North may be more of interest and the activity that they will likely undertake to keep the votes that Boris Johnson considers were “lent” to him by the North. Sir Richard believes that there will be a lot of ministers over the next 3-4 years out on construction sites wearing high vis jackets and hard hats!

Connectivity with the rest of the country and improvements to local transport systems are ripe for investment. Sir Richard notes that only one infrastructure scheme is “shovel ready” and that’s the controversial HS2. Increased capacity is more important than speed and Sir Richard believes that Northern Power Rail (NPR) and HS2 need to be treated as one railway to maximise impact.

There is a clearly huge issue around homelessness in Manchester and Sir Richard argues we need to ensure that promises are turned into action and that the houses we plan to build are the right mix. With 14,045 people in temporary accommodation, the only way we can permanently house them is if we have housing benefit that matches rents. The most cost-effective solution is to have create more family social housing.

Sir Richard noted that simply looking out of the window at King Street Townhouse illustrates the Manchester city centre economy is still going strong and continues to exceed growth in other cities. It’s important to note that this growth is in sectors that are both Brexit and recession proof. One of the best examples of resilient industry is cyber security which is now cemented in Manchester by the arrival of GCHQ. He reminded guests that it’s not just the city centre seeing growth. With the airport overtaking Trafford Park as the second biggest employment sector in the city region, areas such as Altrincham, Prestwich, Whitefield and Stockport are booming and this growth is led by housing, culture and quality placemaking.

In the middle of last year, Greater Manchester’s Local Industrial Strategy was published. Sir Richard says that although we’re not quite sure what government intentions are for Industrial Strategies just yet, we do have a powerful long-term strategy for the economy of the city region that deals directly with weaknesses in our economy around hospitality, retail, insecure employment and low paid employment.

The biggest challenge of all is global warming and climate change. Manchester is targeted to be a carbon neutral city by 2038, but how are we going to achieve this? The broader GM strategy that is currently being refreshed is not long enough to deal with any of these major issues and we need to look at a longer timescale to ensure greater change.

Sir Richard believes in the importance of an integrated transport system. He agrees with GM Mayor Andy Burnham’s ideas for a “London-style” transport system, where trains, trams and buses all work in harmony with synchronised fare structures, schedules and a cap on maximum day fare. Transport for Greater Manchester is currently working through the consultation around franchising buses, but Sir Richard believes there will be quite a few challenges to this.

Finally, Sir Richard highlighted the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which has been under discussion for five years. It is currently paused as it still has not been approved by central government. An element of certainty is extremely necessary to ensure that we develop the region correctly and sustainably.

Guests then enjoyed a delicious two course lunch before diving straight back in with a Q&A session, led by Mel Fourie from Together.

What else will be coming into the Manchester region, both nationally and internationally?

Ecommerce is booming within the city, with The Hut Group,, Autotrader and Boohoo to name just a few key players. Amazon’s first ‘Bricks and Clicks’ store is in Manchester. Cyber security is growing massively with the arrival of GCHQ and we are currently investing in a co-German start up developing biomarker technology. Tourism are also increasing to the city.

What are your thoughts in terms of the underlying issues that sit behind homelessness in the city?

We have 15,000 homeless families with kids not in school: the only long-term solution is to build more affordable homes. Begging is almost always fuelled by alcohol or drug abuse and mental health is an enormous issue that blocks some people from being able to stay in homes. There is lots of innovative work being doing around homelessness in Manchester, for example, drug addicts can now use Skype to get their prescriptions to avoid the three-week delay. We need rapid solutions that make a real difference. There is progress, but not at the rate that we want it.

You’ve made it very clear that you would prefer to remain in the EU. What impact will Brexit have and what should businesses do to protect against potential threats?

My short-term expectations are that nothing will change for a year and the longer we can keep that going the better. We need to build strong economic relationships with other countries and international cities to ensure that we also remain an international city. Marketing Manchester have launched a co-promotional scheme with New York based on the similarities of our cities.

Sir Richard then took a few questions from the floor.

It was reported last year that we have the highest number of homeless deaths of anywhere in England, why is this? And apart from donating to charities, what can businesses do to alleviate the homelessness problem?

Sir Richard clarified that those deaths were rough sleepers, not homeless people. It’s still just as tragic but we need to note the difference as if we don’t know exactly what the problem is, we can’t come up with the right answer.

He believes the Big Change and the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Homelessness Fund are the two funds that directly support the homeless. This could be through raising funds or volunteering as part of a CSR programme. For some companies, you can even look at your employment criteria and think about how you can support homeless people to become economically active. Applying for a job with no fixed abode is extremely difficult, could we change the way that we recruit?

Manchester is the home of the suffragettes. What are your thoughts on gender equality in the city?

We lead by example at the council: the labour Group on the council is majority women; the senior management team is majority women. More training around unconscious bias makes a difference, particularly around recruitment. However, diversity needs to consider the full picture and we need to be more honest about it. Gender diversity is pretty good in the council but we’re not doing well in BME at all. We need to look at ourselves as businesses and make sure that we are doing something about it.

On that note, Sir Richard handed over to pro-manchester Chief Exec Sam Booth who brought the event to a close and thanked Sir Richard and our sponsors Together.