Yesterday, three of Greater Manchester’s mayoral candidates came together at Bruntwood’s Neo building in the city centre for the MPA’s ‘Big Debate’.
Chaired by Christian James, MD of The if agency, the focus of the discussion was centred around the impact of the election on Manchester’s media, creative and digital scene, with members from the sector in attendance. Andy Burnham (Labour), Sean Anstee (Conservatives) and Jane Brophy (Lib Dems) tackled issues ranging from transport, the skills gap, homelessness and diversity.
The candidates were also joined by a panel of Manchester’s business leaders including Sandy Lindsay (Tangerine PR), Nicky Unsworth (BJL), Elliot Muscant (Dentsu Aegis Network North) and Chris Oglesby (Bruntwood) – all of whom challenged the candidates and pushed them for answers on behalf Manchester businesses and the city itself.
Burnham stated that “we’re on the cusp of a great moment for Manchester, this is a big opportunity for us.” And, of course, he is correct. This is the first time Manchester will have an elected mayor, and with £90million behind them, the elected mayor will be expected to make great changes for the city and keep the views of the people in mind.
Andy made reference to his previous experience in a cabinet level role, believing that this would stand him in good stead as the people of Manchester “need somebody who can get Manchester’s voice heard on the national stage”, and that he was the candidate to do this. Burnham stated he wanted to make Manchester “a green city, a young city, but also a leading digital city.”
Given her background in the health services, one of the major drivers behind Brophy’s campaign is health and wellbeing. Jane was keen to explain her passion for health and wellbeing saying, “one of my plans is to be a champion for wellbeing... as that really makes a difference to people in the workplace. People should be mentally well and healthy to do their jobs.”
Brophy also touched upon the need for skilled people within the city, believing “we need people that are work ready and can come into the [digital, media and creative] industry and hit the ground running.”
Anstee began his opening statement by reiterating Burnham’s initial comments that, in his words, this was “a historic moment for the people of Manchester.” Investment was a key focus for Anstee, as he stated the need for the city to “attract investment in housing, skills and transport” so that Manchester can become “a global city that is an envy of the world.”
Investment in the Manchester economy
Bruntwood's Chris Oglesby stated that politicians use the word investment quite broadly, and questioned “what investment is really driving our economy?”
Burnham began the round of answers by claiming that we need to tell the world that we are going to be strong in the future and digital has to be one of those sectors. “We need to proclaim to the world that this is a world-leading digital and creative city,” he said. However, it was transport that Andy believed would be our biggest barrier to success, stating that currently “it is not good enough for a city that we aspire to be.” Burnham then went on to discuss the investment he would gain for transport to make Manchester greater, including cycling, rail and Metrolink improvements.
“Connectivity is key” to investment, said Brophy who discussed the pool of talent near to Manchester city centre, in its regional towns, as well as further afield in places like Leeds and Liverpool. Brophy wants to ensure that “people can get here and want to come here.” In order to do this, she stated that she would “be listening to hear what kind of investment businesses [in Manchester] need. It’s about bringing together people and services that can create that investment.”
Brexit: what does this mean for Manchester and the elected mayor?
Another member of the audience questioned the Conservative and Labour candidates to their views on Brexit. Anstee began the discussion, saying that Manchester needed “ to make sure not only that we have a voice at the negotiation table, [but also] we need to be at the heart of the changes across the world, so that we get the best relationship with the EU.” Anstee mentioned the investment and funds the city has gained from the EU and emphasised the need to replace this going forward. “We need to look at the successes of Manchester to grow investment.”
Burnham reiterated the need for Manchester to be heavily involved in the Brexit negotiations. The main concern for the Labour candidate was that “we will end up with a very London-centric Brexit.” Again, he stated the need for a strong voice within parliament who will get Manchester’s views heard. He put young people at the centre of his response to Brexit stating that “We cannot go forward with the idea that young people can be made the target for cuts otherwise we can’t get the highly talented and highly skilled young people that we need to drive investment to the city.”
Brophy, who referenced Brexit heavily throughout her mayoral manifesto, championed the people in her response stating that the “people of Greater Manchester, and the people of the UK, must have a say in Brexit.”
The issue of homelessness in Manchester
The homelessness issue within Manchester is rapidly worsening, and it was a topic on everyone’s mind at the MPA Big Debate, and one which the mayoral candidates all agreed they felt very strongly about.
Brophy opened the discussion by stating that she thought that in “a great city like Manchester, we can, and should, be doing a lot.” She pledged that she would help to tackle the issue by offering rough sleepers the right services and having the right finances available in terms of affordable housing. It is important, Brophy believes, that we look at the evidence base as to why people become homeless and get the right services to people. “We need to invest in services which deliver to the right people, and listen to the voluntary sectors to find out what help they need.”
A similar view was given by Anstee who began by saying that “we need to tackle why it is happening.” Anstee believes that we need to support people off our streets permanently and stated that this “is where devolution can be at its best.” With the inclusive economy that we have in Manchester, the Conservative candidate said that we have the opportunity to “do something very positive.”
While tackling the reason why people become homeless was high on Burnham’s agenda, he also pledged that he would put 15% of his salary towards a fund created to localise solutions so that “no one in our region has to spend a night in the cold.” He went on to state that by 2020 he wanted to end rough sleeping, believing that “not many of us walk past people in doorways without thinking about them and caring about them, which is what defines us and shows that we can deal with this issue.”
The diversity of Manchester
Diversity was another hot topic amongst members of the audience and they asked what ideas the candidates had for creating a more diverse city. Burnham began by saying that he thought that in Manchester “we are more unequal than we would like to admit; unequal in terms of income and geographically divided.” To create a more diverse city centre, he said he would improve how people get into the city centre, as well as stating the need for affordable housing for young people to get on the housing ladder. He said that the city was for “[young people] to shape in the future.”
Anstee focused on the need to share individuals and talent across Greater Manchester, getting people from the regional towns and the city centre together, the driving force of which would be the mayor. “We need to give young people the hope and belief that they can achieve and succeed,” he said.
Finally, Brophy addressed the gap of diversity within the city, saying that she believed you change this “with role models and a better pathway”, improving the inequality in the city, especially in terms of healthcare.
In their summary statements, the candidates explained what they believed had come out the discussion and the key points they would be taking away from the evening.
“We need to be able to distinguish ourselves and use the talent that we have in Manchester to make sure we something with this mayor and ensure we’re doing the right things for our city region,” said Anstee. “I think it goes without saying that you have that commitment from me.” Anstee also addressed the audience by referencing how much the digital, creative and media brings to the Manchester economy, saying “it cannot be ignored by the mayoral candidate.”
Burnham started by saying that he believed it had been “a revealing discussion”. Again, he touched upon the importance of the election, saying “this is a time for new ambition, and one we should set together. We’re not going to get this moment again and we have a chance to do something here. We need ask what is our story for the next 20 years, [and show] that we can face the modern world and succeed.”
Connectivity was key to Brophy’s summary, tying into “how the powers of the mayor is used to support [the people of Manchester] and build the skills base of Greater Manchester.” Brophy explained how she wanted to connect services from transport to health and social care, careers services to environment, to create a greater workforce. Focusing on the digital, creative and media sector, she also said she wanted to “bring investment that will make a difference to the industry”. Brophy closed by stating she wanted to “tackle the urgent problems for the 21st century.”
Manchester mayoral elections take place on 4th May 2017 and a full list of candidates is available here.