Great Britain. GREATER Manchester.

This morning, at North-West Business Insider’s latest economic forum, one of the two ‘Dons’ of Manchester, the great Sir Richard Leese, was joined by Mike Emmerich; CEO of New Economy, Rachel Combie; Director of Strategic Marketing at Marketing Manchester along with event host, presenter and eloquent narrator – the eternally youthful Michael Taylor; Outgoing Editor of North West Business Insider

The Economic Forum (#MCRForum) was, as always, a great session, looking at the region’s future, and specifically the economic leadership in the city region. It also touched on ‘The Family’.

Manchester has done amazingly well. Under Sir Richard and Sir Howard’s tutelage, and testament to their commitment and hard work, Manchester has cemented it’s place as not only the UK’s second city, but also a blue-print that many cities do (and/or should) follow, to say nothing of it’s position of an international brand – few corners of the earth do not know “Manchester”, even if they think the Mayor is a chap named ‘Beckham’.

But the strength of Brand Manchester isn’t just the two Manchester Dons, Leese and Bernstein, though. “The Family” (Midas, Marketing Manchester, Manchester Solutions and New Economy Manchester) have become central to the region’s intellect, power and impact – the achievements in all areas, not least in inward investment and regeneration, are immense.

The City region’s, and specifically Sirs Richard and Howard’s embrace of the private sector and of commerciality as a whole, is widely applauded and seemingly still ahead of the game compared to more traditional, more political, more ‘them-and-us’ style regional stances. The promotion of enterprise (genuine enterprise and the support of Entrepreneurs, not just political posturing) has been a big part of the region’s success story – but continuing that is now key, especially in more austere times.

This is the risk as I see it.  The best businesses listen to their customers. Witness my various ramblings on twitter about the retail sector. There have been no surprises about which businesses have failed and which have blossomed (and it is the Northern businesses that appear to have benefitted – see HERE.  No Longer Grim up North!). It is the businesses that engage with and listen to their customers….then learn from them and act accordingly.

“Never tell anyone outside the Family what you’re thinking again”

The Manchester Family can give the impression of a closed-shop. The interaction, and working relationship between the agencies is great – even moreso when you consider they act for 10 local authorities and the differing political and hidden agendas that could elicit, but the perceived barriers to inclusion are significant: The phrase closed-shop was heard from several people on the way out of yesterday’s forum. Very ‘Family’.

I’m sure they do listen. The intellectual firepower The Family can muster is immense, but is it innovating? Is it keeping up with the times? We have some immense minds in Manchester; some leading Entrepreneurs, visionary leaders and business leviathans. But do we hear them speak of, or be engaged by The Family?

We’ve not suffered so far, as mentioned above, no-one can decry the achievements made to date – but even innovators have to keen innovating, or at least keep-up to survive, let alone thrive…witness the announcement being played on Sky News‘ evening programme as I write this, that the inventor of the Hand-Held Camera, Kodak, has filed for Chapter Eleven protection due to the evolved success of it’s own product.

One area this appears to be most evident is in business support for SMEs. The question of small business support was asked yesterday, twice, in different ways. The only definition of support that appeared to be understood was financial. Grants. Hand-outs. The highlighting that the NWDA and Business Link was soon to be no more, and certainly didn’t have funds available was the mainstay of the response. Replacement investment support options being the answer.

The overall support structure appears outdated and thus often overlooked by the Entrepreneurial/SME sectors. Most entrepreneurs I know don’t crave government money; they don’t need business versions of social handouts. They want access to opportunities; They want access to those people who have developed in the areas they seek to emulate; They want relevant first hand support from bodies with the power of The Family.

Perhaps that would be the offer they can’t refuse?

13 Comments on “Great Britain. GREATER Manchester.”

  1. With functional adult literacy at about 25% in some areas of Manchester and skills levels trailing national averages, I am somewhat sceptical about the city’s ability to compete internationally and develop a properly balanced economy.
    City centre retail has done well as has property development, perhaps reflecting the ‘the family’ itself, but as both of those sectors face long term stagnation if not decline, what is the next five to 10 years of development going to look like?
    Your comments about the closed shop (and its cosiness) are very valid and I can’t help feeling that without the property lever to pull, the family faces a very testing time indeed and some new faces are needed.

    • Very valid comments, especially the testing times/need for new faces.

      Property seemingly leads the commercial face/influence of the Family (Bruntwood/Ask/etc) – with so much talent in Manchester, the ability to find broader family members is easy. But how easy is it to be accepted by the family.

      “Let them all drink from the well” as Vito said.

      • Good points from both of you. What impresses me most about their leadership is an impertinence and irritation at the tendency towards smugness. Manchester like many western cities is failing the people who can’t break out of that cycle of deprivation. The sober assessment of the economic strengths and weaknesses in the Manchester Independent Economic Review directly made that link to poor skills. No- one can make their life better if they can’t read, write and talk, never mind code. This to me is the once in a generation opportunity of which shiny new buildings is just one piece of the jigsaw. I think that’s what Mike Emmerich and SRL were saying too.
        Cheers, MT

        • Indeed. I don’t see either of our Knights of the Realm as being in anyway smug, or accepting of it from others – quote the opposite. The issue with those stuck in the cycle of deprivation is difficult. Those that want to break out should be given every opportunity to do so, to the benefit of us all and the region as a whole. But what of those who don’t, or make no effort to do so? It also harks back at least one generation, and sadly now, sometimes two to leave individuals still in the prime of life with such a dearth of basic skills.

          Above all though, I agree – as with all opportunities, this once in a generation (or even lifetime) opportunity should be maximised. Shiny buildings are easy to criticise, especially in austere times, but they have been a visible, physical beacon of the great reform that Manchester has seen over the past 10-15 years.

  2. Leese et al deserve a ton of credit, but I think, like all families, the Manchester family can be a little insular. I’ve noticed this in two ways; first, we need to reach out to cities like Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle even. If you were in the USA or China we’d all be one region; we should be batting together and possibly thereby even readjusting the imbalance in our country which has centralised so much political and economic and cultural power in the South-East. Second, as you say, there is a “closed-shop” element, which especially manifests itself in a failure to embrace the mavericks, the individuals, or the undercapitalised businesses or cultural operators. Yet, as always they will be key to the future. Would Factory Records have received at invitation in 1982? Probably not; too spikey, weird, untamed. The spikey weirdos are part of the family though.

    • Ironically, the organisation which is projecting North West to the world is Peel which is projecting a Liverpool/Manchester axis through the economic potential of the Ship Canal and a revitalised Liverpool port, feeding into the greater NW economy/market and then selling directly to China through things like its sponsorship of Liverpool’s presence at Shanghai Expo in 2010. It is also the reason we have the BBC which will do more to project the NW identity positively than anything else.
      Sadly I don’t think Peel are on Sir Howard’s Christmas card list any more..

      You’re right about spikey weirdos.

    • As a region I do think the entente cordiale between Manchester and the other parts of the North-West has vastly improved in the last 10-15 years – perhaps less so once we travel across Pennines that diminishes, but I think the region as a who does pull-together. accordingly we do benefit from it – as do our neighbours. Witness the transformation in Liverpool that whilst not due to Manchester, has benefitted from some input from further down the M62.

      That said, the Manchester Family do have to focus their interests on Manchester. If they looked after Leeds’ interests above Manchester’s, the fall out would be epic.

      As for the embracing of mavericks – To me, that is common sense, but then I am a maverick. I suspect that becomes a generation thing. But current generations need to learn from the old and recognise that these dangerous free-spirited, straight-talking youngsters represent the future, the new/next generation. What’s more, they might just be able to add value in the short-term too, placing their radical ideas alongside the old stalwarts of the old guard. Many of these mavericks have already more than earned their stripes.

  3. I think that you make some very valid points Gary and do the other commentators below
    There are two points I would like to make
    Firstly as you allude to,the family has become very insular,to an outsider it had always struck me as being jobs for the boys and you see the same names time and again being touted around.It is time we had some new blood
    Secondly during the reigns of Sir Richard and Sir Howard,little has been done to address the inbalances across the city.Whilst the bright lights of the centre have benefited from the property and consumer boom,those on the outskirts probably feel even more marginalised.
    A lot of money has been thrown at these issues but to my mind,it has ended up being paid to admonistrators

  4. Sorry accidentally hit send button without finishing…
    As I was saying the money has gone to administrators,managers and consultants.
    Whilst I applaud some of Manchester’s achievements,we are still left with some of the most deprived communities in the UK whose prospects will surely only get worse in the next few years.
    I think if Sir Richard and Sir Howard want to leave a legacy,it is time to switch to plan B and show that Manchester can lead the world in finding a new model for a city economy which moves away from consumerism and finance and instead one based on cooperation,localism and inclusion for all maybe based on a green agenda

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  6. Hi Gary – the comment is Manchester innovating is bang on there are parts of the Family that need to decide whether they are public or private sector. The business support in GM is in need of a major reinvention. As you say we have some great minds and successful people, but are they part of the Family. I think Mr Mike Fahy’s article “Councils asked for cash to feed “family” is getting close to the issues I have a serious problem with ! Great blog cheers mate John

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  8. I feel that Manchester/Greater Manchester could learn a lot from the Midlands, particularly the Birmingham/West Midlands Region in terms of economic growth/exports etc. as the following exert from The Manufacturer highlights ”Exports from the West Midlands have increased by 30% since Q1 2011, and by 15% from the East Midlands, while the average rise for the whole of England in this period is only 2%, national statistics can reveal. An analysis of the export performance of England’s regions reveals a heavily skewed distribution since the first quarter 2011, with the West Midlands way out in front. The manufacturing-centric region has recorded a thumping 30% rise in exports from Q1 2011 to Q2 2013, with the East Midlands up 15% and the South West up 10%. Yorkshire and the Humber follows with 7%. Bringing up the rear for exports are the North West and North East with a balance of -12% for both, over this specific period. The two regions, which also have strong manufacturing bases, showed isolated quarters of strong growth – such as the North West in Q3 2012, with 14% growth in exports – but big falls in specific quarters brought their average export performance down. For example, exports from the North West slumped 19% in Q2 2013. The West Midlands, conversely, has only posted two quarters when exports shrank on the previous quarter, in the whole period comprising nine quarters. In the fourth quarter of 2012 exports grew by 13%, a trend that has carried through 2013 with the third quarter figures due out soon. “The is some magic at work in this region,” said Paul Noon OBE, director of UK Trade & Investment West Midlands, in Birmingham. “Some of this is driven by Jaguar Land Rover, of course, and JCB. But it is not only their supply chains that are exporting, there seems to be a stronger ‘go get’ mentality here now than hitherto, and different types of companies are finding ways to exports.” ”


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