Manchester, like other cities, is in a global competition and the only way to succeed is to be distinctive.
Nowhere was this clearer than at the international property market show MIPIM, which I recently attended as part of the city’s private-public delegation. Some of the key themes we communicated there were that we are an intelligent city and that in the face of extremely difficult global conditions we are continuing to develop, respond and show confidence in ourselves.
That confidence was reflected in the choice of Manchester’s famous particle physicist, Brian Cox, as our keynote speaker, stressing the importance of the city’s enormous knowledge and research base. We succeeded in creating a huge buzz - indeed 10% of MIPIM-related tweets were about Manchester.
Being distinctive also means anticipating and adapting to changing market conditions - providing the right properties at the right prices and with the right flexibility, such as the option of co-location with like-minded businesses.
That’s why developments such as The Hive in the Northern Quarter and East Manchester’s Sharp Project have been successful in attracting creative industries, while Citylabs on Oxford Road looks set to enjoy similar success in the research and development sector.
A key part of what makes the city distinctive is its cultural attractions. In Manchester we don’t regard these as ‘nice-to-have’ optional extras but as key components of a vibrant city where people want to live, work and - crucially - invest.
The forthcoming Manchester International Festival, which runs from 4 to 21 July, will once again attract national and international coverage and visitors. This is the fourth time the festival of new and original work has taken place and it goes from strength to strength.
Once again there’s an exciting programme with something for everyone - from Kenneth Branagh starring in his first Shakespeare play for more than a decade, in the title role of Macbeth, to innovative Belgian theatre director Inne Goris transforming the town hall for Once Upon A Story. This is a series of shows bringing together dance, performance and visual exhibits aimed at families and children.
That cultural distinctiveness received another boost, and a ringing endorsement, this month with Arts Council England’s announcement that it had awarded £5.5m in funding to the £25m Home project. Home, which opens
in spring 2015, is the new base of the merged Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company and is already acting as a major catalyst for the regeneration of the 20-acre First Street site. The Arts Council cited the ambition of the project in difficult times, and the growth we believe it will support is very much of the economic as well as the creative variety.
Another crucial element of what we believe makes Greater Manchester distinctive is our mature and effective partnership between the public and private sectors. When it comes to governance, we are ahead of the curve with Greater Manchester Combined Authority taking a co-ordinated approach to creating the conditions for sustainable growth.
We have been calling for decades for central government to give us more control of the levers governing elements such as skills, business support, housing and transport, which are critical to delivering the growth we need.
The noises emerging from Westminster are increasingly encouraging. The government recently said it would accept the bulk of the recommendations in Lord Heseltine’s review, which stresses the central importance of greater devolution to the nation’s competitiveness.
This includes the creation of a single pot of funding, bringing together myriad funding streams and giving regions greater freedom on how to make the best use of it, removing the strings-attached handout approach.
Lord Heseltine played a constructive role in the regeneration of Manchester city centre after the 1996 IRA bomb and showed himself then as someone who understands the role and importance of cities to the nation’s economy.
I believe there is a genuine recognition from the government that his arguments are compelling. What must not happen is a dilution of the government’s commitment, nor a reduction of the amounts of funding departments are prepared to loosen their grip on.
We are in a tough competitive environment.
But with the right focus across the whole range of public and private partners the prospects for Manchester are distinctly - distinctively, even - encouraging.
Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive, Manchester City Council