Sir Howard Bernstein profoundly shaped the city of Manchester in his role as chief executive. Credit: via Place archives

Maker of modern Manchester Sir Howard Bernstein dies aged 71

The leading local government civil servant of his generation died on Saturday 22 June. It is understood that he had been ill for some time.

Sir Howard Bernstein dedicated his life to Manchester, having been born in Cheetham Hill in 1953. He spent nearly half a century at Manchester City Council, joining in 1971 and rising through the ranks to become chief executive in 1998.

He formed a dynamic civic leadership partnership with Sir Richard Leese, former Leader of the city council, that was without equal in UK local government for a quarter of a century.

Synonymous with the rebuilding of the area devastated by the 1996 IRA bomb as well as the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Bernstein is arguably best known in property circles for his passionate insistence on pump-priming the economic revival of the city with modern office space on large floorplates epitomised by Spinningfields.

This belief in the employment-led growth of the city through attracting high-quality employers to locate in the city was behind his uncompromising grip on planning and development control.

He involved himself deeply in commercial property development, chasing agents on a Sunday evening for updates on big deals and leading the annual delegation of ‘Manchester at MIPIM’ partners to Cannes each March.

He was fiercely loyal to the city he loved and maintained Manchester’s excellent connections with Whitehall despite changing colours of government, something started in the 1980s by then leader Graham Stringer. He worked so closely with Cabinet Office policymakers that he helped shape local government programmes from scratch, spotting the latest agenda and riding on its cusp. It was no surprise when Manchester was first in line to receive funding from new programmes he and his team helped shape, such as Building Schools for the Future or city region devolution deals.

A workaholic who rarely took holidays and would work seven days a week if required, he won arguments around the table by being the best prepared in the room, always reading the report in depth that others had only skimmed at best.

Bernstein managed disagreements in private, emerging with stakeholders and colleagues reciting a shared hymn sheet, and could often be a disappointingly bland public speaker as he walked the council line at all times, merely reciting the corporate plan and the need for joined-up thinking and ever more delegated powers from government.

He retired from the council in March 2017 and moved into private consultancy. His post-council work included roles at Manchester Life residential property company, Deloitte, Vita Group, Factory, and more. He was the honorary president of his favourite football team, Manchester City FC, as well as an adviser to Liverpool City Council, an honorary professor of politics at the University of Manchester, and the president of Lancashire Cricket.

Bernstein is survived by his wife, Lady Vanessa Bernstein, his brother Russell, his children Jonathan and Natalie, his stepchildren Danielle, Francesca, and Dominique, and seven grandchildren.

In announcing his death, a statement from the family read: “Sir Howard’s legacy shaped Manchester as the city we know, and he will forever be a part of Manchester’s history. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and the city he passionately served.”

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A great servant to Manchester and the North West, he will long be remembered.

By Liverpolitis

Howard “never walked the Council line” nor recited the Corporate Plan – he created the narrative and led from the from the front. His thinking, and approach, were miles ahead of his contemporaries. As a city we were blessed to have him.

By Anonymous

He was a true mancunian, worked for the good of the city & its people a true gentleman

By Baz

Rest in Peace Sir Howard. A man the UK could do with more of, a visionary that helped propel Manchester from regional underperformer to a city breaking from its shackles and becoming a truly continental/international city.

By The Squirrel's Nuts

I was a Manchester opposition Councillor for sixteen years and Sir Howard chief executive for all but two of them. A superb operator, and when you look around the regenerated city centre and beyond much of the massive improvement is down to Sir Howard.

By R. Mark Clayton

RIP Sir, your job here is done, thoughts with his family & friends

By Janet Breeze

Rest in Peace, Sir Howard. A truly remarkable man, with vision and empathy. For years the North has been trampled on by our own governments, but he was having none of it. He brought Manchester back, from Westminster’s managed decline. We will miss him.

By Elephant

Sir Howard was a remarkable servant to our city and played a key role in the renaissance of Manchester. We were lucky to have him.

By Richard Cowell

RIP to a great man who did so much for Manchester – there should be a statue of him put up in the city one day.

By Ryan

As a dynamic force of change, he was peerless. Yes he had his faults, but don’t we all. He gave Manchester back it’s swagger. A job well done, rest in peace Howard

By Cheggers

Sir Howard was a visionary and total servant to local democracy having moved up the ranks from administrative support to become Chief Executive. His legacy will include projects such as Metrolink , 2002 Commonwealth games and getting the City up and running again after the 1996 IRA bomb. I was privileged to work with him as both a Leader of the Opposition on Manchester City Council and Chair of the Passenger Transport Authority (TFGM) at the time of the bomb and planning the big bang extensions of Metrolink. He was also a supported of heritage and his name will live on at Heaton Park when he laid the foundations at the then new lakeside depot at Heaton Park Tramway. We will have an event at the tramway in his memory.


The north has lost a great leader.

By Anonymous

A superb operator with a great mind who could create an idea, build a strategy around it and then execute it. East Manchester is a prime example; and he was always there to help others.

By Robert Hough

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