Greg Clark is Minister for Cities and MP for Tunbridge Wells.
With the possible exception of David Moyes, few people these days regret a move to Manchester. Businesses, investment and jobs are steadily being attracted to a city that now has real momentum.
This success comes from Manchester itself; it is not engineered from afar. Anyone who does business in Greater Manchester will attest to the current strong sense of local purpose and ambition – a determination to compete head-to-head with other cities around the world to secure investment. Indeed, the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein, has been known to doorstep inward investors visiting London and cajole them into adding Manchester to their itinerary.
The revival may be minted in Manchester, but our Government has decisively supported these ambitions, whether it is through the negotiated cross Government City Deal, or the Chancellor’s determination that Manchester should be the world centre of research and development of Graphene. Sir Richard Leese, the long-serving Labour Leader of Manchester City Council, said recently there has been “more progress on giving cities control of their destiny in three years of this government, than under 13 years of Labour”.
It is no wonder that local business leaders are now of the firm view that the foundations have been laid for Greater Manchester’s economy to enjoy a strong 2014. With deals like Manchester Airports Group’s agreement to see the Beijing Construction and Engineering Group invest in its £800m Airport City scheme, as well as Greater Manchester’s successful bids for Regional Growth Fund cash to support scientific enterprise, among the key developments.
A crucial feature of Manchester’s success has been its recognition – earlier than other UK cities – that the real economy of Manchester crosses the administrative boundaries of the councils that make up the area that people think of as Manchester. In order to punch at its true weight, the ten councils that comprise Greater Manchester joined forces in 2012 to petition the Government create a single organisation: the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
One of the main drivers of that bold move was Matthew Colledge, the Leader of Conservative Trafford Council. Matt recognised that a resurgent Greater Manchester was good for the residents and businesses of his own borough.
Matt became Vice Chairman of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and was one of the principal inventors of the City Deal. The Manchester City Deal is revolutionary. The city said to the Government: if we invest locally in improving the economic infrastructure of Greater Manchester – galvanising private investors and using local councils’ assets – then that will benefit the country as well as our city. If we can agree to share some of the increase in revenues to the Government that comes from our actions, we will be able to finance that investment in the first place. So it is that over £1 billion of local investment is being made across the city. This includes investment in the A6 Manchester Airport relief road – which will also improve access to the Enterprise Zone. Local leaders are also exploring other high profile schemes that could be supported, including expansion of the Metrolink tram system. It is an example of what our Government is doing to create and reinforce a virtuous circle of investment, success and prosperity in our cities.
Matt was able to play such an influential role, both in the creation of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and in the City Deal proposal, because of the credibility he brought, as the Leader since 2009, of a famously well-run Conservative council that understands business and its residents and has frozen its council tax for four years in a row. It hasn’t been the easiest time to be a leader of a local authority, but Matt is widely renowned for his ability to solve difficult problems.
Matt is stepping down from the Council in May after ten years’ service (alongside his five years as Leader, he served three as Deputy Leader, and was Leader of Transport for Greater Manchester before he became Leader of Trafford) “with a heavy heart” to return to his business career and to raising his young family. Along the way, he’s has also made an invaluable contribution to the HS2 Growth Task Force and on the Board of the Trafford Housing Trust. Only 39 years old himself, Matt is succeeded as Leader by his Finance Cabinet Member, Sean Anstee who, at 26, becomes the youngest council leader in the country. Both Matt and Sean continue the fine legacy of Susan, now Baroness Williams, who led Trafford from 2004 to 2009.
It is not only the residents of Trafford and the people who live, work or do business throughout Greater Manchester who have reason to be grateful to Matthew Colledge for his outstanding public service. As Conservatives, we are fortunate that he proved the case that a Conservative administration can be successful in a big northern city. And show that the way to do it is to run a value-for-money council, while exercising leadership beyond the council’s own boundaries to drive economic success. It is a formula for success that has a wide application for Conservatives across Britain.