Manchester's new Mayor must lead the charge for economic prosperity
Steve Gillingham, Mace's Director for the North, writes for Manchester Business Week about the key economic priorities for the first directly elected Mayor of Manchester.
In just under a month’s time Greater Manchester will see its first directly elected mayor take office with a wide range of powers covering policy areas such as transport, housing, education and skills, policing; as well as control of a £6bn health and social care budget – powers which are greater than the Mayor of London.
While this election shows that the Government is delivering on its devolution promises, it comes at a pivotal time for Manchester. A time when the UK is negotiating its exit from the European Union and as the Government engages with political leaders and businesses in the regions to flesh out their industrial strategy.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s (NPP) first report published in February, showed that with the right kind of investment we could see the Northern economy grown by £100bn over the next three decades and deliver 850,000 new jobs, with Greater Manchester seeing a large share of these benefits.
So, what should our first Mayor of Greater Manchester prioritise to help businesses and residents across the city region?
Improving infrastructure is essential if we are to become a truly global Britain. In the run up to Brexit, as we prepare to deepen our trade ties with the rest of the world, the UK needs to invest in transport projects that enable British companies to better connect to international markets.
Going forward Manchester needs to compete with Barcelona, Los Angeles, and Lyon not Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool. In the short-term this means improving connections to Manchester Airport through HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Trans-Pennine Tunnel.
Many northern cities are closer than parts of London. The Piccadilly line in London is longer than the distance between Manchester and cities such as Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool, but travel times and capacity are consistently worse in the North. We lack the regional infrastructure to capitalise on this proximity and such investment would improve our international competitiveness.
In the long-term the Independent International Connectivity Commission report, published by Transport for the North, highlighted the long-haul destinations that Manchester should have regular services to by 2050. These new routes, which include Tokyo, Shanghai, Bangkok, Mumbai, Manila and Kuala Lumpar, would open up new export markets for Greater Manchester and the North.
Another key priority for the new mayor must be to address the current skills deficit in Greater Manchester. Whilst this gap exists in primary and secondary education, of more immediate concern is the training and retention of skilled workers. This means that currently only around half of graduates in Greater Manchester stay in the local area compared to London, which retains three-quarters of its graduates.
The skills gap is expected to grow further when freedom of movement with the EU ends. To compensate for this polling done by Mace, shows that 84% of the public believe it is now more important than ever that we train British workers to deliver our major projects rather than relying so heavily on skills from overseas, and more than four in ten people would like to see more money spent on technical training as opposed to universities.
Skills, coaching and collaboration are needed at the highest level across Greater Manchester and the mayor should support programmes which identify and enhance leadership capabilities in our people, so that the period of transition and growth maximises benefits to the region.
There is also a clear need to improve the productivity of our local workforce. Whilst London has the biggest GDP of any city in Europe, we need to start reducing the £22,500 economic output gap per person that exists between our capital and the North. Workers in Germany take four days to produce what their counterparts here in the UK make in five; which means, that too many British workers work longer hours for lower pay than our German neighbours. Only by investing in research and development, boosting our skills base and improving regional infrastructure can we help to address local productivity levels.
When the new mayor takes office, they will find a lot of work waiting for them in their in-tray. It’s never been more important that we have a strong mayor who will lead the charge to deliver economic prosperity and a better quality of life for the thousands of businesses and millions of people living in our city region.