The man at the heart of transforming Manchester into the cultural and economic powerhouse it is today, has outlined four key ‘pillars for change’ that Aberdeen must embrace in order to achieve its regional renaissance ambitions.
Growth, people, civic engagement, and infrastructure funding are the essential ingredients of success according to Sir Howard Bernstein, the former chief executive of Manchester City Council and power broker whose rise from junior clerk to town hall boss has become legendary.
Sir Howard, who is now a strategic advisor at business advisory firm Deloitte, was speaking to an audience of around 200 business leaders at an exclusive event at the city’s International School last night (Thursday, August 31). He was instrumental in masterminding the city’s rebirth following the 1996 IRA bomb, brokering Manchester City FC’s investment in east Manchester, championing the Metrolink and bringing the 2002 Commonwealth Games to the city.
During the visit he outlined the challenges currently facing regions across the world, touching on the complexities posed by an increasingly global marketplace, the social aspects which accompany growth and the impact of political and economic uncertainty.
“For ambitious places like Aberdeen and other city regions, as they try to chart a new direction which responds to these challenges, it means developing policies for growing and diversifying their economic base, the key to stronger international trade,” said Sir Howard.
“It is important to address new ways of accessing and generating resources, which is key to supporting infrastructure investment; and looking at civic engagement differently.
Sir Howard said equally important to the growth equation is diversification: “I grew up in a city which was one of the biggest manufacturing and production centres in Europe, but globalisation left us with almost nothing but industrial dereliction. Becoming one of the UK’s biggest commercial and professional centres, a centre for innovation and research with distinctive scientific achievements, a cultural and creative centre with few peers in Europe did not happen overnight. It is the outcome of highly sophisticated and intelligently sequenced programmes of change lasting 20 years or more. Long term planning and delivery is therefore fundamental.”
He went on to outline the importance of making sure the right powers are in place at the right level to support local ambitions, saying: “We need to see a greater commitment to devolution for all places which have the ambition, the plans, the maturity of their collaborative structures with business and the capacity to deliver.”
Sir Howard concluded by saying: “There is a need for a vision to show how a city can be grown and how it will be sustained. This should place as much emphasis on people as assets, buildings and infrastructure. There should be a programme over the short, medium and longer term covering all facets of the vision, which is outcome driven and monitored.
“Strong civic leadership and local authorities within a defined economic geography working together with a focus on the right priorities, along with a strong partnership between them, other public service providers, and the public and private sectors, is vital. Government must be a partner too.
“If a place can demonstrate all these characteristics then, in my view, it has the best platform for delivering positive change.”
Sir Howard was invited to the city to share his insights as part of the Vanguard initiative. Led by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, together with Shell UK and other partners, Vanguard aims to have a direct positive impact on Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire across the next two to five years, building on the momentum created by a range of public and private sector investment projects valued in excess of £8billion, which are either planned or already underway in the region.
“These are critical moments for us,” said Chamber chief executive Russell Borthwick. “We have an economic diversification plan that is gathering pace, our strength in innovation is being further developed through city region deal investment and there is real progress with the city centre masterplan. Most of all, we are beginning to demonstrate confidence and ambition, sending out the message that we are open for business.
“If we are to deliver our renaissance vision, the legacy we want for future generations, we need to continue making brave decisions. Sir Howard delivered transformational change for his region and has shown us it can be done. We need to listen, learn and act accordingly.”
Sir Howard Bernstein joined Deloitte in April 2017 and advises the firm’s clients on health and social care, government reform and devolution, and regeneration.
Graham Hollis, senior partner for Deloitte in Aberdeen, added: “There has been no better time in Aberdeen’s recent history to hear from Sir Howard – his experience in Manchester has many parallels with the juncture at which the Granite City finds itself today. With everyone working together and moving in the right direction, we believe Aberdeen has a bright future ahead – built on strong partnerships, a diverse set of growing businesses, and, most importantly, its people. We’re delighted that Sir Howard is supporting this event, reflecting our continuing commitment to the city.”