L’Oréal Blackett chats to Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on the rise of Manchester start-ups, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Manchester’s challenges in becoming a world-class destination.
More than a decade ago, Andy Burnham influenced a decision that would significantly impact my life in Manchester.
As Secretary of State for the Department of culture, media and sport, he played a pivotal role in the BBC’s decision to move to Salford Quays. The uprooting of the UK’s most significant broadcaster to the North meant Manchester kids, like me, with lofty dreams of media stardom could ‘make it’ at home. We didn’t have to move down South like we were all told to do.
Today, Manchester continues to attract mammoth new opportunities in business, culture, art and more. Once again, Andy Burnham is at the helm. He was elected Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor in May 2017. He won voters over with his impassioned pledge to end homelessness, vastly improve our city’s transportation system, and supported the mission to build a Northern Powerhouse – a proposal to boost the local economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture.
All pledges he admits are still a work in progress. But he has a plan, he tells me.
We speak just after Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his promise to “turbocharge” the north with a new rail network between Manchester and Leeds. Burnham and the North, have heard this all before. The potential of billion-pound high-speed rail network HS2 was teased 9 years ago. But, with reason to renew hope, if achieved, what does it mean for the future of Manchester?
Let’s start with current events, our new PM, Boris Johnson can be a polarising figure in the city – but, in your opinion, does his appointment mean good news for Manchester?
Hmm, I think a lot of people in the North have never seen much of commitment. For me, the jury’s out and he needs to prove to us that he is someone that is going to act on what Greater Manchester and North of England needs. You promised us a Northern Powerhouse many times now. The onus is very much now on him to prove it.
He recently made some pledges to Manchester and the north – particularly the much proposed HS2 and HS3 rail networks – how confident are you in his ability to implement them?
There’s a massive North/South divide when it comes to transport. He [Boris Johnson] has a responsibility to demand for everywhere what he demanded for London when he was mayor. That for me is the key thing. We need a London style transportation system.
He made a good start with the speech and the issues he talked about, the bus fares and rail infrastructure. And, to be fair, he focused on issues that are important for people in Greater Manchester. But is there going to be any real follow up? It’s fine as words on a page but will they remain words on a page or result in real delivery. That’s what Manchester needs.
In his speech he mentioned young people who live on the outskirts of Manchester and the ‘hopelessness’ they feel – what did he mean by this?
He very much took up a theme which I have been on since I got elected. The cost of travel in Manchester is such that it puts barriers in front of some young people, especially those in the outskirts. They may look at Manchester City Centre but don’t aspire to work there because of the cost of getting there every day. So, I very much heard an echo in what he said and what I’ve been saying. But now, let’s do something.
What do you think will help?
I’m proud that Greater Manchester will be introducing free bus travel fares for 16-18-year-olds. I made a promise when I stood for election that I would prioritise young people.
I would be keen to work with the government to bring down the cost of travel for all young people, not just on buses but on the Metrolink and trains. It’s not just about travelling to Manchester, how about if you’re a young person who gets a job interview in London? The interview is at 10 am in the morning – what are you meant to do about that? When you look at what it might cost you, you’re looking at £300 plus pounds.
When I graduated from uni I came back here and I remember that era very clearly and how hard it was to get my first foot on the ladder. I can relate. And this was pre-privatisation of rail. I got a job in London. But now, is that an option from many young people?
Is it fair to say there are much more opportunities for young people in Manchester now?
Massively so. In some ways, where the cost of travel has changed things for the worst, the opportunities here in our own city have changed for the better. If I just look at MediaCityUK – well, that didn’t exist ten years ago. There was BBC Oxford Road but it was much smaller. When I look at the names of the organisations in our city centre, they just weren’t here. We have the likes of GCHQ coming later this – a huge government employer with prestigious opportunities. There will be more. Manchester is attracting more and more attention. Why are they coming here? Well, it’s the talent of our young people.
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Why has Manchester become so attractive to companies?
It’s the talent of our young people and the diversity of our communities.
I can give you an example: I was responsible for the BBC moving to Salford. The things some were saying at the time were outrageous and the snobbery was unbelievable. More than 10 years on from that, the BBC is stronger for having moved. It lessened its ivory tower and become more representative of the entire country. Other companies have also realised that they will be stronger for coming here too. They need the diversity of Greater Manchester. A diverse workforce makes them stronger.
I recently read tech startups in the region have doubled – the city has become a tech hub – how has the entrepreneurial spirit benefitted the city?
Manchester’s always been a city of industry. But it’s a city that’s not all about materialism – yes it’s about wanting to succeed but also seeing your responsibility to wider society. Certainly for me, whenever I ask businesses to support us on homelessness, for example, there’s no shortage of businesses that say yes we’ll help out.
…we don’t just stand for entrepreneurs for the sake of making people rich, people want to come to a city that has a sense of doing things in the right way and for a higher purpose.
I try to stick true to that Manchester history – that tradition of social innovation and progress, the Suffragettes, the trade unions, the cooperative movements. That’s what gets me going.
Manchester is growing at a rapid rate, from residential, hospitality to transport and the cityscape. The city does feel like a never-ending project, is there a finish line and what does it look like for you?
It’s a good question. The world is moving so fast now, that if any city stops and pats itself on the back and says ‘we’ve made it’ then that’s the time we start falling behind again. I honestly don’t think there’s a finish line, but there’s a line Manchester needs to cross to get it to where it really needs to be. Manchester’s a world-class city, especially in sport and music. We’re becoming world-class in architecture and the cityscape too. We’re starting to look like a world-class city.
But we aren’t world-class for transport. We are one of the fastest-growing, dynamic, exciting cities in Europe but we can’t be complacent.
What’s one word sums Manchester up best?
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