Manchester: The True Second City
I’m a Yorkshireman. For those that don’t understand the War of the Roses and the 600 years of subsequent ‘discussion’, it puts in to context the magnitude of what I am about to say. Manchester is kicking a*se.
I may be currently heading south away from Manchester at c120mph courtesy of Richard Branson, with my heart firmly rooted on the other (right) side of The Pennines, but my business and my head are very firmly placed in Manchester, so much so that I was on BBC Manchester on Monday night explaining WHY Manchester is firmly positioned as Britain’s second city.
Li Ka-Shing has noticed Manchester’s prominence, causing global headlines in the process. Even the most resolute London based columnists have picked up on Manchester’s strength ….and such people are far from the only ones that have picked up on Manchester’s increasing energy judging by the amount of corporate investment heading North.
Manchester has long been a mighty force. The Industrial Revolution was born here; the computer was born here; the Trade Union movement was born here. The world’s first passenger railway station was in Manchester as well as the first industrial canal and the first regular omnibus service.
Despite Manchester obvious political bias to the left, even Benjamin Disraeli, father of the modern Conservative Party was quoted in the early 19th Century saying “What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow. The age of ruins is past … Have you seen Manchester?”
Moving towards commerce, Britain’s dramatic social and economic reform later in the 19th century was led by this great city followed by the development of world’s first industrial park, Trafford Park, where Ford Motor Company chose as its initial UK base along with Westinghouse Electric Company – the remnants of which can be seen in Westinghouse Road and the Americanised grid of numbered streets and avenues.
It is then apt that the city once again is leaping ahead of its contemporaries to not only compete with national cities, but genuinely compete on an international scale. The Brand of Manchester has benefitted from two great football clubs in the city, the immense 1980s music and cultural scene, world leading broadcasting and who could forget Coronation Street, the world’s longest running non-news TV programme.
But Manchester has never had it easy. The City has had to fight against a myriad of adversity from collapses in the cotton trade; the decline in the textile industry leading into the great 1930s depression; huge damage during the war (ironically caused due to the great success of the locally named Lancaster Bomber, built by Avro in Manchester) and more recently the IRA bomb in 1996 – still the largest terrorist act on the British mainland.
Even today, Manchester falls well behind in terms of national investment. The centrally funded investment per capita in London on the public transport network is £5,000 per person. In Manchester it is just £5. But we’ve simply done it ourselves. The reasons Manchester bounced back from these events and factors is the same reason it has grown in strength and power in the last 15-20 years. Its people.
But the resolve of the people of Manchester has led to the city, and crucially the Mancunian economy and the businesses therein to now stand alone in competing not only with all other UK cities, but also with London. But Manchester and its businesses have succeeded by not trying to compete with London, nor with other UK cities. 70% of Brummies recently voted against a ‘truce’ with Manchester over the 2nd city title – Mancunians couldn’t care less, they just focus on their own achievements and developments.
London is in a different league and operates in a different world; it is a Top 10 Global city. Manchester has gained by not trying to compete toe-to-toe with London, but by offering something very different, recognising that the same strength of its people that helped bounce back from a century of adversity is what is driving the city forward and ironically now gaining ground nationally at the expense of London.
With economic difficulties in London prevailing, and an influx of talent being driven away due to job shortages and continually rising living costs, the greater Manchester area has become THE alternative to the capital, becoming the prime location people consider investing in, and living in, after London.
The BBC’s relocation to Manchester Salford last year crystallises the region‘s position as THE business destination of the moment. HS2, the high-speed rail network will see the ‘North-South’ divide decrease ever further with Manchester becoming little more than an hour away from London, less than the average commute from the Home Counties into Central London.
Such is Manchester’s commercial development that it now genuinely competes with major European centres of business and commerce, including Paris and Frankfurt, but yet it only compares itself with itself – setting its own standards and seeking to be the best it can be. The immensely impressive £650m Airport City development being just the latest in the global leading initiatives.
The leadership behind Manchester has been the cornerstone to the recent, meteoric rise of Manchester as a commercial and economic power (along with many other things). For reasons detailed in my blog earlier this year about Sir Howard, Sir Richard and The Manchester Family, the city has a huge debt of gratitude to pay for what they have done, and are continuing to do to our city.
….but we also have to recognise the environment they have fostered to promote, encourage and support business. This is seen partly in the attraction of major corporations to follow in the footsteps of Ford and Westinghouse, but also in Manchester’s real commercial power – the dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit of its people and the keen commercial edge which is rendering it a UK beating commercial power.
Manchester/North-West businesses have a unique position. The immense innovation the city saw in industry, transport and leading technology through people like Alan Turing and more recently with the invention of Graphene, echoes through the life blood of the region’s businesses today. We may only have a tiny handful of FTSE-100 representation, and a barely greater number of FTSE-250, but the commercial might of the region’s businesses is immense. And it is down to the people behind them, and within them.
With such an [increasing] reliance on people, and particularly key talent to drive these businesses forward, it is little wonder that the North-West recruitment market has survived better than the other non-London markets.
The smarter Manchester recruiters accept London’s position as a super-power (football aside….!). As mentioned above, I am currently speeding towards London to spend the day in London, the 1hr 47 min journey from my Wilmslow home, does not give me the longest commute of City workers, such is the convenience of the North-West. The magnitude of the North-South divide can only truly be appreciated by those who see it on a daily basis. But as also mentioned above, Mancs don’t care. We back ourselves without peers.
We also see that as Manchester business continues to strive for innovation, continues to lead the way in attitude (and reaps the benefit of doing so), so the quality of the people required increases. The North-West is without question the prime non-London location for professionals to consider – approximately 50% of our successful NW appointments are with individuals relocating to the area. But the challenge to find, attract and ultimately secure that talent is not to be sniffed at. The realisation of that is arguably the regions businesses’ biggest weakness.
…Good job then there is a nationally renowned Head-Hunter based amongst you that leads and overcomes that challenge…..even if my heart still won’t let me accept that even in the 15th Century War of the Roses, the Red Rose had the victory.