Bernstein Civic Dinner Graham Stringer

Civic dinner held for Bernstein’s ‘extraordinary contribution’ to council

A special dinner was held last night in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall to pay tribute to outgoing chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein as he prepares to retire from the local authority at the end of this month.

The dinner, organised by the council, was a chance for Bernstein to thank representatives of the public, business, academic, cultural and sporting sectors who have worked closely alongside the council over the years.

Around 250 guests heard speeches from council leader Sir Richard Leese, former leader and now Blackley & Broughton MP, Graham Stringer; from Rowena Burns, once a council colleague before joining property company Bruntwood, now chief executive of Manchester Science Partnerships, as well as Bernstein himself.

The speakers described Bernstein’s ability to see and assess an objective, then plot a path to it; to put together great teams and be 100% present in them himself, not just leading from a distance; and his dealing with failures and disappointments by just getting on with it and finding another way to turn things to Manchester’s advantage. Along with working non-stop for the city’s interests.

His wife, Lady Vanessa, persuaded him to take holidays – the only difference was that you got an answer to your email even quicker, said Leese.

Leese said the Great Hall had not seen an occasion like it before for an outgoing chief executive and it will probably never see another.

Stringer, who led the council in the late 1980s when regeneration was beginning to gather momentum, called Bernstein the most well-known local government officer in Europe and the best of his generation.

The speeches were personal, emotional and at times funny. Stringer recalled a trip to Barcelona where the pair waited two hours for taxis to take them to a seafood restaurant, where Bernstein ordered steak and chips.

Bernstein’s speech was short and made up mostly of thanks, including for the organisers of the night, and his family, who were there on the top table. He ended by saying he would be continuing to work for Manchester, just in different ways.

In his own words, he said his achievements came from “spotting opportunity and threat, dogged determination, irrational optimism”. He added: “Manchester is a place that reaches for the stars.”

He received a painting as his parting gift from the authority, ‘A Bird’s Eye View of Manchester’ completed in 1889 by HW Brewer. It has hung above the fireplace in his office since he became chief exec in 1998.

Rumours are circulating about his next move. One says he will be made a professor of politics at the University of Manchester. A role at Manchester City FC is almost inevitable.

Last month he registered a new company, called simply the Office of Sir Howard Bernstein, in preparation for private sector life.

In last night’s audience, people rose to greet old friends and tell their own stories throughout the three-course dinner. Bernstein made his way around every table and spoke to every guest, one attendee told Place North West.

Among the invited guests, see longer list below, were billionaires Fred Done, of bookmaker BetFred, and Peel chairman John Whittaker, accompanied by son and Peel director James.

The director general of the BBC, Baron Tony Hall of Birkenhead, was one of several senior figures from the BBC to attend. Football star Gary Neville, and cricketer Andrew Flintoff were both there.

Bernstein is due to leave the council on Friday 31 March. He will be replaced by Joanne Roney, currently chief executive of Wakefield Council, who arrives in office on Monday 3 April.

GUESTLIST | Who’s who of Bernstein’s Manchester

Politics and policy

As well as MPs, MEPs, leaders of councils, staff and councillors, there were notable policy advisors and key figures from Bernstein’s era:

Tom Russell, headed New East Manchester regeneration body in 2000s

Mark Hughes, ran the North West Development Agency until the Coalition closed RDAs, now chief executive of Manchester Growth Company, parent organisation of the ‘Manchester family’

Lewis Atter, partner at KPMG, advisor to Greater Manchester Combined Authority on growth policy and to Treasury when scoping HS2 programme

Pat Bartoli, head of city centre regeneration and close aide to Bernstein

Bill Enevoldson, chief investment officer at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, former partner at KPMG, specialist in public sector funding

Simon Nokes, managing director, New Economy Manchester, pivotal economic advisory body

Clair Hewitson, commercial director of Marketing Manchester and programme leader for delegations to MIPIM

Lis Phelan, former director of libraries and theatres, managed Commonwealth Games bid and congestion charge campaign

Bernard Ainsworth, part of project management team at Commonwealth Games

Sara Tomkins, director of Marketing Manchester, former head of communications under Bernstein

Vicky Rosin, director of Manchester’s European City of Science 2016, long-serving deputy chief executive with Bernstein until 2014


Michael and Chris Oglesby, Kate Vokes, family owners of Bruntwood, establishment partner on many projects with the council and major arts donors

Rachel Haugh and Ian Simpson, co-founders of SimpsonHaugh & Partners, favoured architecture practice of Bernstein era

Chris Taylor, chief executive, Hermes Real Estate, joint venture partner with Co-op on NOMA development

Ken Bishop, senior director JLL, ex-DTZ office agent for many years now development advisor, close confidant of Bernstein’s on property matters

Graham Skinner, finance director at Allied London, Spinningfields developer

Ken Knott and Mark Stott, chief development officer and chief executive of Select Property Group

Bob Duff, senior vice-president of buildings and infrastructure at engineer Jacobs

Tom Bloxham, chairman and co-founder of developer Urban Splash

Bob Dyson, non-executive director of Urban & Civic, ex JLL regional chairman, instrumental in unlocking Spinningfields opportunity for Allied London 20 years ago

Claire Nangle, director at Keepmoat Homes, former head of regeneration at Oldham Council

Monica Brij, real estate partner at law firm Nabarro, advised council on St John’s deal with Allied London

Lesley Chalmers, ex council colleague and former chief executive of English Cities Fund

Simon Bedford, regional head of Deloitte Real Estate, council’s preferred town planner on big city centre projects

Lynda Shillaw, divisional chief executive for property at Manchester Airports Group, steering Airport City through delivery

Tom Higgins, director, construction group Laing O’Rourke, which carried out the refurbishment of Town Hall Extension and built the Commonwealth Games stadium now Etihad Stadium

David Russell, chief executive of Property Alliance Group

Yousef Tishbi, chief executive of Realty Estates

Jessica Bowles, director of strategy at Bruntwood, former head of city policy at city council

John Hughes, chief executive, Ask Real Estate, long-term partner with council on First Street

Matt Crompton, joint managing director, Muse Developments, prolific developer centrally and in all corners of Greater Manchester

Gerry Hughes, chief executive of GVA, where Bernstein’s son Jonathan is now a surveyor

Tom Marshall, senior director of land and development, GVA


Angie Robinson, chief executive of Manchester Central convention centre, ex Midas inward investment agency and chamber of commerce

Richard Topliss, managing director North, RBS Corporate Banking

Edward Pysden, retired partner at law firm Eversheds, audit committee member at Manchester International Festival, non-executive director of Transport for Greater Manchester. Past chairman of Marketing Cheshire and Manchester Airport Group

Simon Allport, senior partner at accountancy firm EY

Iwan Griffiths, PwC North West chairman

Richard Bell, managing partner, Deloitte

Lord David Alliance, chairman N Brown Group and generous philanthropist, helped support the rebuilding efforts after the IRA bomb and funded the new Alliance Manchester Business School

Sport, arts, culture

Andrew Flintoff, Ashes-winning all-round cricketer, ex Lancashire and England captain

Gary Neville, Manchester Utd FC star turned property developer, behind controversial St Michael’s development due to go to planning committee shortly after Bernstein leaves

Peter Saville, Factory Records designer for the late Tony Wilson and creator of Original Modern brand for Marketing Manchester

Dave Moutrey, director of Cornerhouse since 1998 and now its replacement, HOME

Christine Cort, managing director, Manchester International Festival

Marty Edelman, chairman of Manchester Life Development Company and director of Abu Dhabi United Group, owner of Manchester City FC

Richard Arnold, group managing director of Manchester United FC


Baron Tony Hall of Birkenhead, director general of the BBC

Jim Hancock, former BBC politics journalist

Jill Burdett, journalist and public relations advisor, former Manchester Evening News reporter

Charles Allen, former head of Granada

Chris Bird, chief executive of PR agency Bird Consultancy. Director of Manchester City FC from 1998 to 2004

Alice Webb, director, BBC North

Sue Woodward, ex MD of ITV Granada, now running Sharp Project

Rob Irvine, editor, Manchester Evening News

Jennifer Williams, political and social affairs editor, Manchester Evening News


Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of University of Manchester

Ian Greer, vice-president and dean of University of Manchester’s faculty of biology, medicine and health

Prof Luke Georghiou, University of Manchester vice-president of research

Bishop of Manchester David Walker, chief constable Ian Hopkins, and senior NHS figures were among those from other walks of public life in the room.


Images courtesy of Simon Bedford, Amina Lone, Lesley Chalmers, Mary Watson.

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