Chris Oglesby, chief executive, Bruntwood: Public servants can transform cities


This year’s MIPIM has heard many warm tributes to Sir Howard Bernstein, who stands down as Chief Executive of Manchester City Council in April. It’s the last time he leads a delegation on behalf of his city, and indeed the North. And what a way to sign off. The Manchester Pavilion is thoroughly impressive and reflects the future of the city - sleek, slightly understated and absolutely packed with bright people.

Having joined the council as a junior clerk, Sir Howard has been pivotal in the transformation of Manchester into the thriving city it is today, overseeing game-changing infrastructure projects such as Metrolink. He was also instrumental in raising the city out of the ashes – quite literally – following the 1996 Manchester bombing, replacing the wreckage with the landmarks that make up the fabric of the city centre today, such as Piccadilly Gardens, Exchange Square and New Cathedral Street.

Corny as it may sound, Sir Howard embodies better than anyone Manchester’s logo of ‘Concilio et Labore’ or ‘through wisdom and hard work’. His legacy is to demonstrate just how effective a public sector leader can be in changing the economic landscape and ultimately how a city feels about itself. It’s perhaps no surprise that Greater Manchester will be the first city to have an elected mayor outside London. Given the success of this model others are now set to follow suit.

What stands out about Sir Howard is that for him, strategic vision is everything.

He had end-goals and he didn’t deviate from this path even when the going got tough and taking the easy win must have been very tempting. Other cities in the North are also showing the same commitment to carving out a space that is theirs. Leeds, for example, is nurturing one of the fastest growing FinTech scenes outside London while Liverpool’s vision for growth is centred around its three stated key assets of ‘Productivity, People and Place’.

His has also shown just what can be done through partnership working, with Corridor Manchester, Airport City, Spinningfields and MediaCity UK demonstrating that – contrary to popular belief – the public and private sector can work together very well indeed.

With a catalogue of achievements like this to be inspired by it’s no wonder that other cities are harnessing the power of partnerships. Birmingham, for example, is working to carve out a niche as the UK’s ‘start-up city’ through a collaboration with the Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART) and the ThinCats Community Chest peer lending platform in order to help support start-ups that may otherwise struggle to access finance.

Without a doubt, it will be a bittersweet MIPIM for all those who have worked with Sir Howard during his time at Manchester City Council. He has been instrumental in transforming the MIPIM from a networking conference into a place where the very best city strategies are developed and discussed.

Howard leaves behind a formidable legacy and – more importantly – a model for just how a public / private collaborative approach can be instrumental in turning a city round and driving a progressive future agenda. This, we’ve no doubt, will stand Manchester in good stead over the next decade and beyond and is something that that other cities can and will benefit from replicating.

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