Andy Burnham outlines his vision for Manchester city region

Andy Burnham, metro mayor for Greater Manchester

Business Leader Magazine recently sat down with Greater Manchester’s metro mayor Andy Burnham, to discuss his first five months in the job and his views on business in the region.

Following 16 years as a Labour MP in the constituency of Leigh, Burnham won the inaugural election for metro mayor in May and also took over the police and crime commissioner role.

The role of metro mayor varies between each of the six regions in England and with a 30-year investment fund, there are several sectors that Burnham has been tasked to improve – such as improvements in education and transport.

You are five months into the job – How has it been so far?

I’m really enjoying it. I can honestly say that there’s not been one minute of one day when I’ve thought about being back in Westminster – I made the right decision. It’s a challenging role but I’m able to make real and immediate changes that improve the lives of people here, which is incredibly rewarding.

We’ve already been able to reduce fares for young people on buses and we’ve started to distribute money from my Homelessness Fund which has helped to open a shelter in Cheetham Hill. We’re just getting started and there is a lot of work to do but I’ve not regretted my decision to leave Westminster once.

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge has been the horrific attack on the Manchester Arena. Our city is still recovering and all those who have been affected remain in our thoughts.

What is your vision as Metro Mayor?

We want to make Greater Manchester the best place to live, work and get on in life. A place where children can achieve their hopes and ambitions, where homes are decent and affordable and where no one is forced to sleep rough.

Greater Manchester is going to be the 21st century industrial capital of the United Kingdom, leading the way for the digital industry and in green living, and supporting businesses so they can grow and help to provide secure, decently-paid jobs. Reliable and affordable public transport, along with less congestion on our roads, will help enable this.

What are the main challenges facing Manchester and the North-West region?

I think the economic success of Greater Manchester and the North West will really depend on how successfully we improve the skills of local people. For business to grow and thrive they need highly skilled talent available and we want people here to be able to access those high-skilled, high-wage jobs.

There are also real concerns about the Government’s approach to Brexit and the current economic uncertainty is not good for growth. I want to see northern leaders involved in the negotiations because we cannot end up with a London-centric Brexit that trades away Northern priorities to safeguard the City of London.

The lack of investment in infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure, is also a barrier to growth for many companies.

What is the city region’s pitch to businesses potentially looking to re-locate to the area?

Greater Manchester’s economy continues to thrive – we are the fastest growing city-region outside London and part of a £140bn regional economy. Manchester International Airport has direct flights to more 200 destinations and our four universities have 99,025 students and 33,000 graduates annually. We’re a leader in foreign direct investment and known internationally as a great place to do business.

What are the strongest business sectors in the city region?

Greater Manchester is strong across many areas of business but one of the areas it stands out in is as a leading regional financial, professional and business services centre, employing more than 324,000 people and contributing £16.2 billion to the local economy each year.

Another strong sector is within the digital industries and since becoming mayor I have held a digital summit, which brought together the brightest minds from the tech industry to make sure that Greater Manchester can become one of the leading digital hubs world-wide. The region is already home to Europe’s second largest creative, digital and media hub, with more than 54,000 people employed, and this sets us along our way to achieve our aims.

With Media City, the UK is already home to the BBC and ITV, and Greater Manchester already having a reputation for ground-breaking animation and CGI, the region is already the digital place to be.

What is your message to businesses in the city region?

For decades, Greater Manchester has led the way when it comes to successful partnerships between business and the public sector and I’m committed to building on this.

This summer we saw the strength we have when northern leaders and businesses work together. I believe that by collaborating we can bridge the productivity gap, up-skill more local people and improve infrastructure across our region. Politicians simply can’t do this alone.

My door will always be open to businesses who want to innovate and drive growth in Greater Manchester. Together I believe we can make Greater Manchester the modern industrial capital of the UK once again.