What can Cardiff learn from the Manchester City Region?

Robert Chapman examines Manchester’s city region success

The proposed South East City Region

With the appointment of the Cardiff city region board, it is good to see progress being made at last. I am reminded of my interviews with Manchester (city-region) CEOs one of whom said “the journey would be a long journey and a slow journey, but you have to start somewhere to see progress”. Well, it has now begun. This article concentrates on ‘learning’ from Manchester, mindful that (i) local authorities outside of Cardiff “would rather be on the footplate of the engine rather than in the end-carriage”; (ii) a city region scenario is not only about governance, but equally about psyche and (iii) South East Wales will not thrive if there is insularity and tribalism, the latter being something that even Gatland has cautioned against in Welsh Rugby.

Manchester’s success (borne out of a journey which started in the eighties) has much to do with a clear understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, allied to a deep understanding of economic priorities, where “place is put before politics”. On the subject of need versus opportunity Manchester’s response is that ‘‘if you are not responding to opportunities, then you are not doing it right’’. Progress is not about keeping people in poverty. On the contrary, it is about getting people into work because ‘‘you can’t have a haven of prosperity in a sea of disadvantage’’. So why has Manchester achieved success? Here are seven reasons.

First: Early on, Manchester persuaded political leaders to become business friendly: in their eyes ‘‘without access to wealth, people would remain poor’’. There was a clear philosophy around enterprise, a clear understanding of the global market and the need to attain economic competitiveness as a cohesive region, as opposed to a collection of disparate district benefits.

Second: From a governance perspective, Manchester established a Manchester governance family, namely: Manchester Investment Development Agency Service (MIDAS); the Manchester Solutions Group (part owned by the Chamber of Commerce); Marketing Manchester and the Commission for the New Economy. Also, note the jointly owned airport (now with a Plc Board), Manchester Knowledge Capital and Manchester Enterprises. These entities or organisations fulfil a role within the city-region. The over-arching structure at the moment is that the Combined Authority (the statutory body) and Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) work in tandem: a statutory body with statutory functions, with an AGMA executive and partner organisations (local authorities), plus NHS, police & fire services. The Local Enterprise Partnership overlaps with the city-region area and is administered by the Business Leadership Council.

Third: A potent vision and strategy with clear, concise and shared responsibilities. In their view job creation requires two essential things: first, the right skills and accessibility or connectivity (transport links are critical); second, highly desirable neighbourhoods or places: both based on a clear and incisive economic strategy. The precursor to the strategy was the pioneering and meticulously prepared Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER). The MIER report (the first of its kind in Europe) was innovative and far-sighted because of the in-depth economic analysis of the region, its weaknesses and strengths.

Fourth: The degree of trust that exists represents the maturity of the relationships ‘on the ground’ around trust and positive sum mindsets, manifested by investment decisions taken for the next 20 – 30 years.  For example, Wigan (cf. Merthyr or Ebbw Vale) is a long way from the network and yet the leader of Wigan, Peter Smith, was very supportive of improved infrastructure within the region because he could see a positive sum game as opposed to a zero sum game. He recognizes that all can become winners by having a conurbation that works well and is well-connected. Manchester’s success recognises things that bind organisations together. This has been achieved without taking away the discrete and unique nature and identities of each of the towns or places (polycentricity) – with equality being stretched across the region.

Fifth: Confidence. Manchester is confident about how it does things whether it is the promotion of the airport, the delivery of the metro, the development of the schools academy model or Manchester’s community strategy whereby there is a reciprocal self-interest in reducing the impact on public services of getting people into work and improving their wellbeing. Three examples mentioned by CEOs are worthy of note.

  • Firstly, a central regeneration team working across all authorities have produced development plans to access investment funds (from the Northwest Evergreen Fund and Regional Development Fund) to support infrastructure development.
  • Secondly, the Improvement & Efficiency (I&E) Commission (made up of elected members) is a programme to accelerate and promote delivery of efficiencies through collaboration and sharing of best practice. Supported by a central Programme Office, funded by AGMA authorities and partners, it has been very successful in delivering millions of pounds in savings, with ambitious targets in relation to supporting programmes to deliver Public Service Reform.
  • Thirdly, the procurement hub providing a centralised procurement service within the I&E programme office is dealing with approximately forty contracts providing frameworks for purchasing. The hub delivered approx. ‘£5m in savings last year and is on track this year to deliver substantially more.’

Sixth: Political leadership is considered to be one of Manchester’s key strengths with one officer noting the strengths of Sir Peter Smith, Leader of Wigan and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester as skillful, open and consensual.  Sir Howard Bernstein CEO of Manchester (described as being very ambitious and aspirational) wanted Manchester to be a genuinely global player competing with the likes of Munich and Milan. For them, leadership is not about ego. It’s about being pragmatic to deliver a ‘win-win’.

Seventh: Some key strands behind Manchester’s success:

  • Manchester has been operating a ‘total place’ idea;
  • Foresight behind creating a super-University of excellence helped to secure a £50M investment into graphene, the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material;
  • The decision to designate the airport an enterprise zone was founded on the robust evidence base produced by the MIER report. As one CEO stated, the speed of response and analysis was ‘based on a clear understanding of the region and the maturity of the leadership in making a decision in the best interests of the region rather than simply designating an enterprise zone in a deprived area to reduce uneven development;
  • Procurement for the construction industry (worth £350 million) and how it can engage with people bordering on crime or NEETs. The aim of the ‘not-for-profit’ organisation is to deliver work programmes and achieve over 500 apprenticeships. The geography of the combined authorities offers the critical mass for the programme;
  • The MIER report introduced some key thinking: in particular, it highlighted the need to proactively concentrate on early years (0-5) in ‘chaotic families’ in order to obviate the impact on the economy and public services further downstream because of economic inactivity and worklessness.

In Conclusion, Manchester works really hard at governance and there is no complacency. Manchester’s positive sum city-region approach (win-win) contrasts with the current zero sum city-region approach (win-lose) in the Cardiff city region. However, the journey has begun with the appointment of the city-region board. Let’s hope Roger Lewis and his team can change the mindset of the region so that we can now move towards a true city-region form of governance / influence, which delivers for the community in the widest sense.

Robert Chapman is a chartered surveyor and commercial property consultant and founder and director of Robert Chapman & Company. This article first appeared on his blog at http://rchapmanandco.wordpress.com/