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What Mayor Burnham must do for Manchester

Jo Sellick

The results are in and Andy Burnham is the newly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, or the ‘metro mayor’. This result was predicted by the polls, but it was hardly certain, given the shock results of other elections held during the past 12 months. By Jo Sellick, managing director, Sellick Partnership.

We now have a strong Labour leader holding a position of authority and I am encouraged by many of the pledges made by Burnham during his campaign. Now that he has been appointed, it is time to see quick and decisive action that will start to build on our region’s promise to be a strong Northern Powerhouse. I am sure many other business leaders in Greater Manchester will be just as encouraged as I am by the result, as it is certainly time that our flourishing region had a strong voice to represent it at a national level.

So, what should Burnham’s priorities be moving forward? As many people have pointed out, one of the most startling and worrying issues we currently face is that of homelessness. The politician himself focussed on this during his campaign and promised to donate 15 per cent of his salary to a new homelessness fund. This is a promising start, and hopefully will encourage other people of influence in the area to make their own contributions towards putting an end to the current crisis. If we are to continue promoting Greater Manchester as an inspiration to other cities in the UK, and indeed oversees, this is something that must happen sooner rather than later.

Another area of Burnham’s manifesto that caught my attention was his ambition to make Greater Manchester ‘the modern industrial capital of the UK once again’, with promises to work closely with businesses, schools and colleges to help our growing digital industry thrive. This is a subject close to my own heart, as I see the issues caused by skills shortages on a daily basis when meeting with clients who are keen to expand their businesses, yet lack the necessary talent to do so. In the face of this, business leaders have to either pay over the odds for employees who do hold the relevant skills, or spend valuable time and money training people who are underqualified for the job. I also hear from candidates who are desperately seeking work, yet find that companies are still cautious to spend money investing in new staff when the economy is struggling to get back to full strength post-Brexit vote. Working with people at school level, as Burnham pledged to do, is a fantastic way to create a strong talent pipeline of home-grown employees in the future, which will arguably become more important than ever before once the UK leaves the EU and may well have less readily available labour from our European neighbours.

The final challenge that I view as a priority for our new metro mayor is to provide us with a strong voice on a national level, especially as we go through the Brexit process. With the general election just one month away, we face the prospect of a different prime minister, or at the very least a different government than the one we have become accustomed to. The general consensus is that the Conservatives will win the election and strengthen their position in parliament. If this is the case, it will be more important than ever before for our newly elected mayor to represent an alternative opinion and fight for the beliefs held by the majority of our region. It is important to remember that most of the Manchester voters chose to remain in the EU (121,832 versus 79,991), and the reasons for this must not be forgotten as Burnham takes up his new role. It will be interesting to see how the next month unfolds and the direction in which the leading parties will take in their campaign for the general election. One thing is for certain; the political landscape is set to change yet again during the coming months, and nobody can accurately predict exactly how. It is up to our region’s business owners to maintain a confident and steady leadership in order to keep workforces – and indeed the economy – in the strong position we have fought so hard to gain.

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