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?