As his first act as Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham launched a homelessness fund this morning and called on the property community to donate buildings: “Whilst the city centre’s skyline is filled with cranes, our streets should not be crowded with people who have no roofs over their heads.”
Labour candidate Burnham was named Mayor on Friday, after winning 63% of the vote, beating Conservative rival Sean Anstee who secured 22.7%.
Tackling Greater Manchester’s rising homelessness problem formed a key part of Burnham’s election campaign, with a promise to end rough sleeping by 2020. At 6am on his first morning as Mayor, he went out onto the streets of the city centre to meet homeless people, before confirming at a press conference that he had followed through on his pledge to donate 15% of his £110,000 Mayoral salary to the newly-created fund.
“This is day one of changing politics,” he said, describing his decision to give prominence to the issue of rough sleeping as “bringing in the cavalry” to support the work of Greater Manchester’s various existing charities.
“Greater Manchester has been fortunate enough to witness some of the fastest economic growth nationally over the past decade, but alongside this we have seen growing inequality which damages us all,” Burnham said.
When asked what he thought had caused the rise in homelessness, Burnham pointed to a failing national housing policy and Government cuts as the main causes. He also said that the attractiveness of Manchester city centre, and the generosity of residents, may have led to homeless people moving in from other areas.
To the city region’s property sector, he asked for support in his goal to deliver a shelter in every community: “Donate the use of buildings, people, please give support, whatever that may be.
“If you have got a building that could be used, even for six months or a year, come forward and let us use it, because it will be used properly. It will potentially provide a temporary shelter for people, and that would be very much appreciated.
“The property sector is booming and it’s great to see. But Greater Manchester has always stood for prosperity with principle at the same time. People want to get on, but they want to give back. And I’d say that to businesses and particularly the property sector; you’ll fit in more here if you think in that way and you work that way.”
The Mayor’s Fund will act as a community foundation, an independent charity to disseminate funds to local organisations through a grant process. Anyone can donate; this crowdsourcing approach to ending rough sleeping forms part of what Burnham said is his plan to “change the way how politics works from day one”.
“Politics needs to change to regain people’s trust.”
One Manchester developer described Burnham’s strategy as “noble”, but said “donating empty buildings won’t necessarily solve the issue”.
“Asking for properties raises obvious questions, like timescales, cost, paying to open up an empty building, whether they’ll get rate relief. Developers don’t just leave buildings empty out of choice. And will providing accommodation just bring more people in from outside Manchester if they know they can get a roof over their heads?”