Andy Burnham sets out culture-led strategy for Manchester’s economy

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said that he wanted to help create a city that capitalises on its ‘music city’ reputation and ‘24 hour party people’ image to encourage culture to be a core driver of Manchester’s economic growth.

In a keynote interview at AHC Manchester on 12 September, Burnham described the city as somewhere that “has always been an exciting place to come to with lots going on from a music point of view, a sporting point of view and nightlife”.

He stressed that this is important in terms of the visitor economy, the money that brings in to the city and the jobs that it sustains.

“That's obviously a big reason why we want to always prioritise it, but then there's a wider economic reason, which is if you have a nighttime economy like ours, if you have a kind of sporting infrastructure like ours, you make this place the first pick for students and it's why we have 110,000 undergraduates in our universities at any one time. And that is massive in terms of organisations choosing to invest in terms of graduate jobs,” he explained.

He said that was critical in attracting the best young talent from around the country, which is fundamental to a growing economy.

“I think, when people talk about whether levelling up is a real thing or not. I would definitely say we've seen growth in terms of organisations, rebalancing. Maybe companies moving a bit out of London and looking here first. For young people, they can have a really attractive lifestyle here that perhaps is beyond their financial means in in London.

“And our nighttime offer is critical in relation to that. It is mission critical for us. It doesn't live on the fringes. It's at the heart of our thinking,” he added.

Burnham backs cultural investment

Burnham stressed the need to invest in culture even in tough times and emphasised that this requires a more far sighted approach to economic development.

“The one thing I think I've added from when I came in as mayor was more around music. You know, I grew up in an era where Manchester music was bossing the world and there was a risk that we'd got to a position where we were trading too much on those big names of the past, and some of the infrastructure had been allowed to go without much of a fight to save it,” he reflected.

“It was a sort of moment where I wanted to say that to be a music city then you're all in,” he said. “I always say take a place first approach, rather than a party first approach, because the place is what unites everybody. Everyone's got a passion for the place whoever they vote for. And actually, it's a more positive way to do politics.”

Helping hospitality jobs

In terms of the city’s hospitality industry, Burnham said that he had “nothing but admiration” for the way that many locations had not only survived but also raised the bar and the quality of Manchester’s nighttime offer.”I also know how difficult it is from an energy cost point of view, or a big thing that we know we've got to fix, which is a staffing. If I get that third term, I am going to put as much effort into integrating technical education and our skill system, as I have put into integrating transport [the city is taking over the running of the buses] in this current mayoral term, because that, I think, poses a risk to all parts of our economy,” Burnham said.

“If we don't create a skill system that is much more driven by employers and works as a system rather than the fragmented landscape that we've got at the moment, it is a big risk to the industry. I would like to work with the industry to raise the visibility of those career paths, so if people do start as bar staff or working on the floor of a restaurant, you can show that there's a professional pathway through hospitality that's more clearly laid out. That's what you could do if you had a more integrated approach to skills in the city,” he said.