An audience with Sir Richard Leese

Downtown members were among a small group of business people invited to Manchester Town Hall this week to meet with city leader Sir Richard Leese to discuss the Devo Manc deal.

He is an impressive character, Manchester’s head political honcho, who has masterminded his city regions development and growth masterfully in partnership with his chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein for over twenty years now.

Indeed, he reminded his audience on Tuesday that though the Scottish referendum on independence had possibly accelerated the process of the devolution deal Manchester has secured, the city region had been working on winning such a package for many years now.

Leese was clearly more interested in the additional powers and resources that this ‘settlement’ with Chancellor George Osborne and Westminster provides, rather than the establishment of a Metro Mayor, and he made it clear that only the creation of this post allowed Manchester to unlock the significant wave of new powers that were announced a fortnight ago.

He conceded that other city regions would inevitably win more powers from Whitehall in the coming months and years, as the ‘English votes for English issues’ debate gathers momentum. But he warned that without a recognition that a directly elected figurehead was required to oversee these new powers, then other city regions will have to accept a diluted version of the Manchester deal.

He was also quick to defend the potential challenge of a ‘two speed’ Northwest emerging, with Manchester clearly in the ‘box seat’ to attract and win not only extra government monies, but private sector investment too. It was up to the Liverpool’s and the Lancashire’s to get their act together and catch up. We had to go at the pace of the fastest and most advanced region he argued – and he is right.

If Devo Manc doesn’t give the surrounding city and county regions the kick they need to focus on working in a cohesive and co-ordinated way, you have to wonder if anything ever will.

Leese also expressed the view that for Manchester this is just the beginning. The city wants to make further progress on the devolution agenda, and that lobbying and campaigning process will be helped by having a directly elected figurehead at its helm.

Exciting times for Manchester. Let’s make sure Lancashire and Liverpool are not left behind.