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Sir Howard speaks

Simon Binns talks to the council chief exec post-MIPIM

Written by . Published on March 18th 2011.

Sir Howard speaks

Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, has told Confidential the city is ‘well positioned for growth’ despite enormous budget cuts.

“I think Manchester has demonstrated what astute leadership can do. I do think we have built a stable and powerful platform for succession, not that I ever think about leaving the council.

Speaking to Confidential at the end of international property show MIPIM last week, Sir Howard said the city predicted the cuts ‘reasonably well’ when drawing up its business plans a year ago.

But he said he had not forecast the size of the cuts, which will see the council forced into savings of £170m over the next two years.

“I think this time last year, we looked at the challenges facing the city – we knew there would have to be savings and cuts,” he said.

“I think we called it well, except perhaps the scale of things. Taking the amount of money out that we’ve had to do is very difficult. But we’ve maintained our focus on what the priorities are.”

Sir Howard admitted that Manchester’s relative low key MIPIM was representative of the city’s decision to concentrate on behind the scenes things like funding models and new economic mechanisms – less sexy, more practical.

Other European cities announced plans for new ports, airport and underground subways, but Sir Howard said finding the money for the things the city needed was key for Manchester.

“I think our approach to investment models and partnerships puts us quite well ahead,” he said. “Everyone I spoke to this week, including big funders, was impressed with the Manchester approach.

“The challenge now is to get stuff over the line; that means the LEP (local enterprise partnership), the revised AGMA structure, the JESSICA regeneration fund and all these things that can be potentially huge resources.

“I think Manchester has demonstrated what astute leadership can do. I do think we have built a stable and powerful platform for succession, not that I ever think about leaving the council.”

Several private sector developers made presentations at MIPIM, which took place in Cannes, with Bruntwood, Urban Splash and the Co-operative showing off plans for millions of sq ft of office space.

Several observers noted that while demand for Grade A office space was drying up, building new space will rely on demand for large pre-lets from potential occupiers.

The council has committed £20m to Ask’s First Street, however, suggesting Sir Howard is keen to see the site progress. Nearby, in St Peter’s Square, Argent is expected to make a decision on a contractor for its new 270,000 sq ft office scheme, designed by Glenn Howells Architects, fairly soon.

“The city centre is looking good. Office demand has remained comparatively buoyant,” said Sir Howard.

“We prioritise growth but we can’t splash £20m here, there and everywhere; however, the council will not shirk its responsibilities when it comes to place making. But it has to be more sophisticated than just giving cash out. First Street is an investment in place it will drive commercial activity.

Sir Howard refuted claims that Manchester has relied too heavily on the movement of incumbent occupiers to soak up new office space and has failed to bring in any significant international big-hitters since the Bank of New York in 2005.

“I think we’ve done well on international investment, actually,” he said. “We’re getting a bit of interest back from big investment banks, probably at the levels we were five years ago. They know they have to be efficient and have a productive footprint.

“There is a cultural issue among funders and where they want to be. London is coming back and we’re probably six to 12 months behind them.

“I think this year we’re talking about practical challenges. The next challenge is to sequence things correctly; the Co-op’s investment is huge and will regenerate a huge chunk of the city, for example. We have to make sure that scheme and others, work within the context of the city.”

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Eddy GrimsdaleMarch 17th 2011.

"we can´t splash £20m here, there and everywhere" but we can spend £13m on a new and unnecessary building for the Cornerhouse and Library Theatre.

HBiffMarch 17th 2011.

I'd have said concentrating on finding models behind the scenes at MIPIM was more sexy than practical but good luck to Sir Howard with that nonetheless.

EditorialMarch 17th 2011.

Ho ho Hbiff; that's changed now...

AnonymousMarch 17th 2011.

Nice to hear about the bigger picture stuff from the horse's mouth, in particular the crucial issue of unlocking development funding. However I would like to hear what help is being offered to support and stimulate growth in small businesses in Manchester. Its all very well splashing £20m on mid-market office development sites but where will the demand come from? There is talk of growth in demand from occupiers around The [Oxford Road] Corridor like this is the only game in town. There should be relentless focus on increasing the stock of SMEs right across the conurbation and in the absence of large amounts of public funding to create business space, this is where the planning system has an absolutely crucial role to play in terms of place making, improving connectivity and mandating commercial space as part of mixed-use developments.

Who wants to live in a house or a ground floor flat fronting a busy arterial road or set back behind some steel railings? Every opportunity should be sought to create viable and attractive space and access to the necessary start-up capital for the many potential entrepreneurs out there who could make a good living from themselves here in Manchester given the right conditions.

Kevin PeelMarch 18th 2011.

Sir Howard is right to prioritise investment that will boost growth such as the First Street development. It's an exciting project and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition.

AnonymousMarch 18th 2011.

Think you better check your facts there Binnsy! Elisabeth House or One St Peters Square as it is now known has been in the joint owenership of GMPVF and Argent for sometime - not sure why Argent would be out looking for a development partner - very sloppy. Too much fun in Cannes perhaps?

Simon BinnsMarch 18th 2011.

Contractor. I meant contractor.

I blame the MIPIM germs. Tis now changed.

Duke FameMarch 19th 2011.

Why does this council think all development has to be directed by the local state. Let business expand and develop and the council should stop wasting our money.

Bernstein should have resigned yonks ago, he's a waste of money

AnonymousMarch 21st 2011.

Eddy Grimsdale - only someone who has never been in either Cornerhouse or the Library Theatre's old home underneath Central Library could argue that a new home for both venues was unnecessary.

Eddy AnonymousMarch 21st 2011.

You'll get no argument from me on that. Im just saying that a) its a lot of money to be spending when we dont have it b) the Cornerhouse can stay where it is for now c) the new location is wrong d) there are many other, arguably better and more sustainable , locations in the city that the Cornerhouse and Library Theatre could move to. Should they need to. Which in the case of the Cornerhouse they dont.

AnonymousMarch 21st 2011.

MEN comment page loony alert! (Duke Fame).

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2011.

Well i hope he enjoyed his jolly in Cannes - dont you think he should've been at the cuts budget meeting though? He is the man with the strings controlling the puppets in the council, hes that clever hes stayed well out of any challenges on his extortionate public sector salary! So we have attracted the Bank of New York? see how long they last eh? why can't smaller independent companies secure cheaper low cost office space in the city centre to get them in a better place to expand and create jobs? give them a chance at least. We need to develop skills and expertise now we have no manufacturing bases (these should be encouraged too) Fab Lab in Ancoats and the Sharp Project on Oldham Road are doing great things in helping this creativity and innovation happen and should be where more money should be channelled. That and proper traditional apprenticeships, no one can find a decent plumber in this city!! Help sow the seeds not just attract big shiny office blocks we neither need or want. Theres enough mighty oaks benefitting such as the subways, mcdonalds, tesco, radisson hotels etc. Bernstein needs to help this forgotton sector too.

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