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Downtown Quarterly

Apr - Jun 2024

This year DIB celebrates its twenty-first anniversary, and we are determined to make 2024 a mega year for our partners, members, and supporters.

Q2 was extremely busy. Here we review just some of the Downtown highlights.

DIB April Review

Power Towns, Change Makers & Best for Britain

Despite the Easter break, Downtown in Business maintained its busy pace throughout April, hosting a range of events across the country, among them a national conference in Liverpool.

Halton, Sefton and St Helens local authority leaders contributed to our Northern Power Towns breakfast forum at Gaucho in Liverpool – an event sponsored by Morgan Sindall. Fascinating presentations from the CEO of Halton Council Stephen Young, Lisa Harris Executive Director Place at St Helens Council, and Stephen Watson, Executive Director of Place in Sefton, evidenced the very positive work taking place in all three Mersey towns, with inclusive growth, regeneration, and place making at the heart of what is happening in each area.

DIBs second annual conference of the year- ‘Change Makers Live – attracted over 100 delegates from across the UK, who enjoyed an eclectic series of presentations from the worlds of business, academia, and sport – with keynote addresses from the chief executive of Co-operatives PLC, Rose Marley, and the head honcho from Capital & Centric, Tim Heatley.

The Birmingham Property Club reconvened this month to hear the latest investment news from Birmingham City Council Executive Director Phillip Nell, whilst in Manchester the head of Regeneration for the Eastern Gateway at Manchester City Council, Shelagh McNearney, outlined both the successes and challenges of developing a thriving East Manchester.

Manchester, and the fabulous Fazenda, also played host to a special roundtable discussion we held with Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith. Named as one of the most influential lobbyists in Westminster, Naomi shared her thoughts about the current standing of politics in the UK, the in-depth polling her organisation had commissioned, and what the UKs future relationship with the EU might look like.

Downtown in Business was also delighted to attend Sutcliffe’s annual charity ball – were an incredible £65,000 was raised – and the official re-opening of the refurbished Townhouse Hotel in Chester.

DIB May Review

UKREiiF 2024

The annual property jamboree, UKREIIF took place this month. Over 9,000 delegates descended upon Leeds to participate in an event packed three-day conference, focussing on all things real estate, property, and regeneration.

Downtown in Business, as ever, hosted a ‘pre-conference’ dinner in the city’s Malmaison hotel, where we welcomed around 30 of our members to a roundtable discussion with the chief executives of Newcastle City Council, Pam Smith, the City of Wolverhampton Council, Tim Johnson, and Halton Borough Council, Stephen Young. Neil Rami, the CEO of the West Midlands Growth Company, and Mariana Pexton from Leeds City Council also joined the discussion.

Among the many highlights of this years REiiF, many will remember that it was in Leeds when they heard the news that Rishi Sunak had decided to call a surprise General Election for 4th July – that certainly shocked delegates, and was the talk of all the fringe events from thereon in.    

DIB heard a more detailed presentation on Newcastle’s plans at a roundtable dinner in the North East with Pam Smith, whilst our Group chair and chief executive Frank McKenna attended a Labour Party reception in London with several shadow cabinet ministers, including education secretary Bridgette Phillipson, Environment Minister Ed Miliband, and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.

Downtown also announced that the Group CEO of leading architecture and engineering firm, DB3 Group, Nathan McNamara, had been named as the new chair of Downtown in Business Leeds.

DIB June Review

Downtown Day

DIB celebrated its 21st anniversary in style. Headline sponsoring ‘Downtown Day’ at the Liverpool International Tennis Tournament, a great day was followed by an evening of food, drinks, and birthday cake at the spectacular Sky Bar at INNSIDE Hotel, where over 200 people helped us celebrate this major milestone.

Downtown was also delighted to support the Hospitality Hero conference in June – with over 100 delegates from the industry listening to advice and experience from a range of personalities from hotels, bars, and restaurants – as well as visitor economy commentators.

The executive director for economic growth at Lancashire County Council, Simon Lawrence addressed thirty business leaders from across the county at a private dinner, hosted by the wonderful Stanley House Hotel & Spa, and sponsored by Morgan Sindall, whilst Henri Murison, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was our keynote speaker for a Cheshire Leaders Lunch at Opera Grill.

In association with DIB partners Sutcliffe, we welcomed over 150 people to a special event at our Manchester office base, NEO, with the leader of Manchester City Council Bev Craig offering her thoughts on planning, housing, and regeneration

The forthcoming General Election campaign- and its aftermath- was the focus of a special pre-election dinner that we hosted in the capital, at M Restaurant in Threadneedle Street. The former adviser to Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, Jo Phillips, and Joni Smith from the Tony Blair Institute led a fascinating discussion about all things UK politics – with a bit of France and the USA thrown in for good measure.

Sir Howard Bernstein

Also, in June we were saddened to hear of the passing of a great man who has been an integral part of the Downtown in Business journey Sir Howard Bernstein. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Business leaders from Manchester and beyond have been paying tribute this week to Sir Howard Bernstein, following the passing of the former chief executive of Manchester City Council last weekend.

Sir Howard was the key architect in the city’s renaissance, developing the blueprint for regeneration of the city centre following the Manchester bomb, leading a successful bid to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and being instrumental in delivering the first major devolution deal in England which became to be known as ‘Devo Manc’.

A great friend to Downtown in Business, Howard contributed to dozens of DIB events across the country, and he encouraged Frank McKenna to establish the Downtown brand in Manchester over a decade ago.  

Tributes have poured in from across the country for a man who is recognised as one of, if not the, most influential local government leaders in modern times, with warm words expressed by a whole range of people, including Gary Neville, Alastair Campbell, George Osborne, and many more besides.

At a DIB breakfast event hosted in Manchester earlier this week, council leader Bev Craig expressed her gratitude to the contribution that Sir Howard had made to not only the city, but Greater Manchester as a region, and acknowledging the crucial contribution he had made to his hometown.

To read Frank McKenna’s reflections on Howard, please click here and you can listen to a podcast we recorded with Howard during the pandemic below.

From the Downtown team and our entire network, many condolences to the Bernstein family. Howard was a truly great man, who will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.

Campaigns & other news

Preventing suicides within the construction sector is the crucially important issue that has been taken up by DIB partner Causeway Technologies. It is estimated that over 700 construction workers take their own lives every year, and the owner of Causeway, Phil Brown, along with the company’s Mental Health ambassador, former England international footballer Trevor Steven, have embarked on a mission to raise awareness of mental health challenges within the industry.

The main objective is to convince government agencies to include mental health support as a criteria within its procurement processes when tendering for work.

In June, we hosted a special breakfast event in London to celebrate the news that Halton Borough Council had been the first local authority to adopt Causeway’s approach on the mental health issue in terms of its procurement processes moving forward. The leader of Halton, Cllr Mike Wharton, and CEO Stephen Young joined the breakfast to outline their commitment to the campaign. Video report from the event can be viewed here.   

You can sign the Causeway mental health pledge here and hear Trevor Steven talking about the campaign here.

In other news, we learned that the chief executive of Manchester City Council Joanne Roney was moving on to become the Managing Director of Birmingham City Council. See Frank McKenna’s reaction to that story here.

DIB Network continues to grow

To add to the 300 plus member companies who currently enjoy all the benefits of Downtown in Business benefits, we welcomed a range of new firms this month, including BOM, Brown Turner Ross, Coeus Insurance, Earl Kendrick Projects & Building Consultancy, PLMR, Starship Group, Stepnell Ltd, and Verlingue UK. 

To discuss membership or partnership deals with Downtown, please email

Member Highlights

Glenville Walker completes the final chapter of its merger with Rees-Roberts Solicitors

Morgan Sindall hands over first phase of University’s Vet School

Manchester Central appoints new CEO

Senior appointment strengthens Harrison Drury’s corporate team in Manchester

Sleep Out with Nugent 2024 successfully raises £15,000.39!

The Printroom UK & Planet Pack Launch

What Next?

DIB Q3 Highlights

Downtown will be hosting three gala awards events in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham in this coming quarter, as we continue to celebrate the great businesses and talented individuals from across the DIB network.

We will also be organising the Northern Power Towns conference in July, and a business conference- ‘People, Power, Places in Liverpool in September – in association with the BID Company.

We will be talking to the new chief executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Caroline Simpson, and we have a Leaders Lunch in Liverpool, with City Council CEO Andrew Lewis.

In Birmingham, one of the most influential Westminster lobbyists and the chief executive of Best for Britain Naomi Smith, alongside the head of policy for the Tony Blair Institute Ryan Wain, will lead a discussion reflecting on the outcome of the General Election, and what we can expect from the new government.

Trevor Steven and the Causeway Technologies mental health campaign will be presenting to Newcastle business leaders, and we will be hosting a fringe event at the Labour Party conference.

We will also be hosting a special event in Lancashire focussing on the opportunities offered by the new Cyber Security initiatives planned in the county; whilst in Cheshire we hope to have the city’s new MPs with us for a special lunch.

To see the full DIB events programme CLICK HERE.

Not a member?

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2024 in numbers

the story so far...

Government Minister
Shadow Ministers
Local Authority Leaders
Local Government Chief Executives
Council Executive Directors
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in the room
Year So Far