While the two cities’ delegations led their conference campaigns with claims to be the biggest economy outside of London, leaders from both promoted cross-border working, and Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein highlighted cities “recognising synergies” as essential to the success of the North.
However, Bernstein was clear about his belief that Manchester was in a prime position within the Northern Powerhouse.
Speaking to Place North West, he said: “We are the heart of the powerhouse, the single biggest economic driver in the North. If we do not achieve our potential that will affect everyone.
“There is a productivity challenge, and if the UK doesn’t step up we will fall further behind the curve. Cities are now collaborating and recognising synergies so we can present a unified offer.”
While most of the North’s city leaders delivered relentlessly optimistic messages about the Northern Powerhouse throughout the MIPIM UK conference and were wary when it came to casting doubt on the Government’s capacity to produce the investment and powers required, Bernstein was more pragmatic.
“The Government needs to deliver on its promises to us,” he said. “Then we want to extend our investment capabilities over the next 12 months, so further devolution is unarguable.
“We’re waiting for the spending review, in which we need a settlement which enables us to move our city forward. Some settlements have shown disproportionate cuts, which deliver reverse incentives. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be cut backs, but we need to ask if the proportion and burden has been distributed evenly.”
In the wake of Manchester’s historic devolution deal secured last November, Bernstein continued to push for greater powers over local spending, including control over more programmes to deliver better outcomes for local people.
“We’ve never been afraid to challenge ourselves, and we need to continually use these opportunities as examples of how we can do better and deliver in a fiscally sustainable way. We can do things in the next five to 10 years that would have been impossible a decade ago.”
On the other side of the Pennines, and the MIPIM UK conference hall, Leeds promoted itself as “the largest city region economy outside of London” with a GVA of £60.5bn, and the second centre of banking in the UK, with 12,700 employed in the industry compared to Manchester’s 9,700.
Speaking to Place North West about Leeds’ relationship with Manchester as two of the largest cities in the Northern Powerhouse, Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region enterprise partnership, said: “The inconvenient truth is, in economic terms the Leeds City Region is bigger than Manchester. However, it is no longer about any particular city region, but the Northern opportunity and our national and international contribution.
“We need to make a virtue of our strengths, and how we complement each other across geographies. There needs to be a new level of collaboration, but also healthy competition, so we can race to the top, but together. The partnership with Manchester is alive, and well, and maturing.
“We’re sharing panels together, travelling the world together, and making a case for the benefit of our economies together. There is lots of partnership working and there’s more to come.”