After Friday’s announcement that Manchester’s chief executive is set to be replaced by an outsider from the other side of the Pennines, Place North West examines what is known about Roney’s property credentials and work style.
Roney’s experience in housing is extensive. Her first job as a Birmingham City Council apprentice at 16 was in the housing department; she later became director of housing at Kirklees, where she oversaw housing market renewal projects in pit villages in the late 1990s. She moved on to become executive director of housing and community care at Sheffield City Council, and during her 10-year stint there she was involved in the early stages of Urban Splash’s vast Park Hill towers regeneration project.
She’s previously said her experience of growing up in a Birmingham council house drove her interest in housing policy, and most of her family still live in Shard End, the estate where she was born. Roney is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing. She also has an OBE for services to local government.
The 55-year-old has been chief executive of Wakefield Council in West Yorkshire since 2008. The metropolitan district covers a population of 330,000, compared to the city of Manchester’s 550,000.
Like Manchester, Wakefield is a Labour stronghold, although, unlike one-party Manchester, Wakefield includes representation from a mix of opposition members for the Conservatives and UKIP.
During Roney’s tenure as chief executive, Wakefield has undergone a restructuring and financial strategy overhaul aimed at cutting operating costs by 30%. Roney’s ability at juggling numbers will need to be sharp as she moves into her new role in Manchester, as the city is currently executing £75m of cuts, and is tasked with managing devolved budgets across health and social care.
Bernstein’s deep association with property development is unmatched, however Roney has achieved some notable wins while at the helm of Wakefield. Successful projects include the completion of the lauded £35m Hepworth Gallery, exhibiting the work of Yorkshire artist Barbara Hepworth. The gallery opened in 2011, and was the product of a complicated funding cocktail juggling Wakefield Council, Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire Forward and the Homes & Communities Agency.
Roney also oversaw the tricky recovery of the Trinity Walk Shopping Centre development in Wakefield city centre. An ambitious 500,000 sq ft project, the scheme stalled during the recession when Anglo Irish Bank withdrew its funding, and developer Modus went into administration. Roney has been credited with pulling together new finance to help get the reshaped development over the line. In 2010 the project was bought by a consortium made up of Sovereign Land, AREA Property Partners and Shepherd construction, and the centre opened in 2011.
As a member of Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership board, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Roney is the lead chief executive for skills, overseeing the devolution of skills funding. She’s also the Society of Local Authority Chief Executive’s spokesperson for community wellbeing.
Nationally, she’s a member of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and a member of the Prince’s Trust charity which delivers mentoring for young people.
Tony Reeves, former chief executive of Bradford Council and now local government advisory partner at Deloitte, first met Roney when he worked as director of housing at Barnsley and she was his equivalent at Kirklees. He described Roney as “very active” in the housing development field, but also pointed to her other successes while at Wakefield as indicative of her varied skills.
“Schemes she’s dealt with show her proactive leadership and ability to problem solve. She got Hepworth Gallery over the line, which was award-winning and high profile, and her work at Trinity Walk also demonstrates that she knows her stuff. She’s flexible in her approach, focuses on objectives, and delivers.”
Unlike Bernstein, Roney is active on Twitter, and is unafraid to show her personality on social media. A profile picture showing her cheery in a cowboy hat, in front of a Star Wars-themed Jedi background suggests a woman of varied interests and a good sense of humour. Other tweets show her fondness for Star Trek, and a commemoration of the recent death of musician Leonard Cohen. Before we prepare for Jedi memorabilia to replace Bernstein’s Manchester City FC scarves in the Town Hall office, apparently both chief executives are Blue football supporters, but Roney’s loyalties lie outside of the region, with Birmingham City FC.