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Opera won’t cause drama for rival cities

By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Jim gives a full report on an important Downtown event where the new leaders of Manchester and Liverpool Councils came together to outline their attitude to business and their hopes for a Labour government.

There was no prima donna behaviour by Bev Craig at her recent Downtown event with Liam Robinson. Although the leaders of Manchester and Liverpool Council are rivals for the relocation of the English National Opera from London, the theme was positive cooperation across the board.

In the past antagonism between the two cities had played into the hands of centralised government in Whitehall but former Manchester leader, Richard Leese and Mayor Joe Anderson and latterly city region mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram have calmed the waters.

Bev Craig has been leader of Manchester for eighteen months. She inherited a city very much on the up, literally in terms of its skyscrapers. Liam Robinson has been in office for two months. His inheritance is more difficult. Major departments of the council are still being run by commissioners. Robinson is determined to put the latest era of political infighting and mismanagement behind him.

It is likely these two new leaders will be around for a long time and over twenty years, Downtown has developed a tradition of bringing the region’s movers and shakers together for its members.

The audience was particularly interested in the new leader’s attitude to working with business. Craig gave a frank answer, recounting an early encounter with a business person who asked why he should dance to her tune as she could be a mad socialist! She told him she was happy to work with business, but the council would always have an “ask” list. This embraced the council’s key policy aims to make the city globally competitive with local employment, affordable housing, and inclusivity. Then, Craig said, business would find her a great capitalist!

Robinson made a similar pledge, acknowledged the city’s difficulties but pointed to the great staging of Eurovision. He said for some host cities it was a one day event, Liverpool had staged a ten day festival. However, the city had not always capitalised on events like these to sell the city region to the world.

Both leaders, naturally, hoped to be working with a Labour government soon. They were frustrated with the government’s current “beauty contest” approach to funding, pitting one city against another. Robinson felt the Liverpool City Region had missed out on a trailblazer devolution deal because the West Midlands and Greater Manchester had marginal Tory seats that were in peril.

So, did they think an era of Labour government was about to begin? Craig felt people had had enough of the continuing drama within the Tory Party, but Robinson was more cautious when I spoke to him. He felt Starmer might head a one term government unless Labour made a real difference quickly.

One feels Liverpool and Manchester are in safe hands, but an incoming Labour government would face formidable challenges. Rachel Reeves is determined to deflect the Tory charge that Labour will embark on a spending spree, but that may herald tensions with councils like Manchester and Liverpool who have experienced huge cuts in the austerity years.

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