Cllr Sean Anstee and Andy Burnham MP shared a stage for the first time in the Greater Manchester metro-mayor race at a Manchester Metropolitan University event last week. Both set out their ideas and priorities for Northern business and investment, with the backdrop of the recently published Transport for the North Independent Economic Review.
Both made clear that helping SMEs, promoting apprenticeships, and investing in young people would be central to their respective campaigns. Burnham said that skills are the ‘biggest barrier to investment in the North’ while Anstee said that a shift in culture was needed for apprenticeships to be viewed as a positive life choice.
As Skills, Employment and Worklessness lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), Anstee suggested that this area should be a key element to boosting Greater Manchester’s economy and narrowing its £8bn productivity gap. Anstee highlighted that the problem starts at a young age, with 40% of children not ready to enter school when they do, and 50% of children leaving school not ready for work.
The parallel need to focus on investment and industry was made too. Burnham suggested ‘industrial activism’, Peter Mandelson’s phrase whereby select industries are chosen to drive growth. Anstee, on the other hand, noted that the Northern Powerhouse is the 13th largest economy in Europe, and using the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ branding would be vital to drawing in investment.
Burnham spoke again of developing a ‘council of the north’ to advocate for the region, a point he first made at our DevoQT fringe event at Labour conference. It is not clear yet how this will relate to George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which Sir Howard Bernstein says he will support writing in the LGC today.
While Sean Anstee is yet to be confirmed as the Tory candidate, we are not aware of anybody else putting their name forward to the internal selection process (now closed), including the four Tory MPs in Greater Manchester. At present Anstee is a 16 to 1 longshot to win the race, an equal likelihood to Lord Jim O’Neill, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes.
Nonetheless, the event has provided an insight into some of the tensions of the coming campaign. Anstee was keen to highlight his local roots – speaking of how just a few years earlier he was sat on the opposite side of the lectern, having taken an employer-sponsored course at MMU. In contrast, Burnham again made his case as an outsider, both from Westminster and the Greater Manchester establishment.
Ultimately, this event was academic rather than electoral in its focus, and we should expect some of the conviviality between the two candidates to fall away when the campaign officially begins next month. What is clear however, is that the devolution journey will be fought along mixed party lines. Burnham spoke of his gratitude to George Osborne for initiating the agenda, and although Anstee is the only Tory council leader in GMCA, it was the Labour candidate suggesting he would shake up the Greater Manchester establishment.