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How Manchester leaders have plotted the way towards economic growth

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In common with other cities around Britain, Manchester is at a pivotal moment.

As I’ve reflected here before, and LGC has reported extensively, new opportunities are emerging through devolution to increase the momentum of a growing economy and reform public services to ensure no one is left behind.

At the same time, changing patterns of international trade, especially the growing importance of China and the East, mean cities such as Manchester have to work to establish themselves as truly distinctive places that can compete on the world stage.

In the past two decades Manchester, has re-emerged as a confident and forward-looking international city. But despite progress there remain serious challenges, every bit as significant as those of the past, with the life chances of too many people still too limited.

Getting to where we are now, and from there to where we need to be, could not happen without ambition. And ambition is just daydreaming unless it is grounded in long-term strategy.

Last month saw Manchester unveil the draft versions of important new strategies that will guide the city’s future. The cornerstone is the Manchester Strategy, which will guide priorities up until 2025 and aims to confirm Manchester’s place as a ‘top flight’ world city.

Crucially, this is not the council’s strategy. It has been produced by Manchester Leaders Forum, a group of public, private and third sector leaders from across the city.

One of the strengths of Manchester over the years has been that collective sense of purpose. Nor can it be delivered without the active involvement of the city’s people. But without a clear strategic direction the more detailed strategies that flow from it would lack coherence and co-ordination.

The vision for 2025 is set out under five key themes of what Manchester should be:

  • Thriving and sustainable: Planning ahead to support a growing city, which has created jobs at a faster rate than London in 2015, whether it’s through business space for emerging sectors such as digital, life sciences and advanced manufacturing or new housing.
  • Highly skilled: Manchester has a higher education sector that attracts students from all over the world. But we still have too many young people not in education, employment or training and it’s essential that those growing up now aspire to be part of the city’s success.
  • Progressive and equitable: Reducing the disparities between our communities. As well as working to improve people’s health and skills this means new ways of delivering services to help people become more self-reliant – for example better early years support so children get the best start in life.
  • Liveable and low carbon: A city recognised for its high quality of life, improving the experience of people already living here while attracting new talent. This requires a great mix of sports and cultural facilities including parks and open spaces, good transport, the right mix of housing, welcoming communities and a healthy environment. Work to reduce carbon emissions also needs to be scaled up.
  • Connected: World class infrastructure with the transport connections to drive growth. Being HS2-ready will enable us to begin capturing the regeneration benefits even before high speed rail arrives.

We will continue to make the case for improved east-west connections across northern England and maximise the benefits of Manchester Airport, which is expected to have 40m passengers a year by 2030.

We will also continue to make it easier to travel by walking, cycling and public transport – for example with improved bus services made possible by franchising through devolution.

These are the threads which will run through everything we do in the years ahead.

The best initiatives combine more than one element. For example, world-leading arts space The Factory (which was awarded £78m of funding in last year’s autumn statement as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative) will support creative and tourism industries while enhancing the liveability of the city.

Last month also saw the publication of the draft strategy for our city centre over the next three years – crucial if we are to help rebalance the nation’s economy to address the over-dominance of London and the south-east.

It looks at the emerging neighbourhoods which will power the next phase, such as St John’s (the former ITV Granada site which will include The Factory) and city centre fringe housing schemes such as Manchester Life.

The population of Manchester city centre has trebled in the last decade – now standing at almost 25,000 – and more than 140,000 people work in it. Major infrastructure improvements, such as a second Metrolink tram line through the city centre, are under way to future-proof the city.

None of these strategies exist in isolation.

The Manchester Strategy is aligned with Stronger Together, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership’s shared vision for the whole Greater Manchester area. It’s about Manchester’s distinctive contribution to that goal.

Strategy has brought us a long way from the difficult days of post-industrial decline. It has been a beacon on the darker days. And it points to an exciting future.

Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive, Manchester City Council

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