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Manchester's leadership 'exceptional' after arena bombing

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The leadership displayed by Manchester City Council and the region’s mayor Andy Burnham (Lab) following the Manchester Arena bombing was “by any measure exceptional”, according to a report into the aftermath of the attack.

The fact the council had invested in and developed trusting relationships with community and faith groups over many years helped to ensure those affected positively engaged with the response, according to the review, led by former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake (Crossbench).

Citing the positive role both Mr Burnham and the council played in the aftermath of the bombing, the report recommended civic leaders should take “a highly visible role in response to and recovery from major incidents” because this “enhances community reassurance and confidence”.

While the report, published this lunchtime, was critical of some aspects of the emergency service response - in particular the fire service’s slowness to attend - it said: “The civic response of the city-region was by any measure exceptional and demonstrated the enormous strength of the civic leadership and partnership in Greater Manchester.”

Specifically referencing the role of city council chief executive Joanne Roney, as well as the authority’s leader Sir Richard Leese, deputy leader Sue Murphy, and lord mayor Eddy Newman (all Lab), the report said their leadership was “highly effective”.

“Together with the newly-elected mayor of Greater Manchester, their swiftly activated visible leadership provided reassurance to the city region’s residents, businesses and communities,” the report said.

Just after 10.30pm on 22 May 2017, a suicide bomber detonated an improvised device in Mancester Arena where about 14,000 people were at a concert.

“The bomb used was substantial, containing nearly two thousand nuts, and had a devastating impact,” the report said.

The bomb killed 22 people, “including many children” while more than 100 others were physically injured and many more suffered psychological and emotional trauma.

Due to historic investment in multi-agency planning and exercising as part of the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum, partner agencies were “generally able to act with a high level of confidence”. The report noted there had been a major exercise at the Trafford Centre just months before the attack happened. At the time Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership’s chief officer Jon Rouse told how a scenario “not too dissimilar” to the terror attack had been practiced prior to the event.

Following the blast, Manchester City Council “quickly enacted its own contingency plans and Greater Manchester’s multi-agency emergency plans”. Ms Roney “took a key role outside of the command structure liaising with” Mr Burnham, “advising and supporting elected members, ensuring resources, including financial, were available and leading on planning for civic and VIP arrangements”.

A rest centre was established by council staff at the Etihad Stadium “using a trained and rehearsed process” while “a clear chain of command with all staff being aware of which officer was ‘in charge’ at the centre worked well”.

In the first few days after the attack, both council officers and elected members held meetings with community and faith groups while a meeting with the business community attended by more than 200 companies was also organised to provide advice and support to those affected.

“The panel was told frequently that the positive engagement of local communities, including those feeling vulnerable after the attack, was built on the established and trusting relationships developed over years of partnership work between communities, faith groups, GMP (Greater Manchester Police) and the council,” the report said. “The panel heard that there was concern that funding pressures due to austerity experienced by the council and GMP might lead to a deterioration in the relationships between communities and partner agencies.”

The report recommended “the benefits accrued by the long-term investment in local authority and police neighbourhood and community engagement teams should be preserved where possible by consistent partnership resourcing”.

The council was also praised for its “proactive and responsive” communications, the way it contacted all schools within two days of the attack, the way it helped to co-ordinate vigils and sensitively moved flowers and tributes, and the way it liaised with bereaved families regarding the management of tributes.

The way Mr Burnham conducted himself also drew praise from both the review panel and the public.

“The mayor led by example, he was brilliant throughout, he and the rest of the council gave us time and responded with feeling. The personal touch meant a lot to us.” - quote from one of the victims

“The early press conference by the leader of Manchester City Council and the mayor of Greater Manchester, through to the vigil attended by thousands in front of the Town Hall, stands testament to the determination that Greater Manchester would stay open for business,” the report said.

“The strength of the civic leadership had a profound impact on how events played out in the subsequent days following the attack.”

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