Howard Bernstein, Manchester champion, 1953-2024

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The regeneration of post-industrial Manchester ranks among the most remarkable British economic stories of recent decades. Sir Howard Bernstein is its principal author.

As chief executive of Manchester council, Bernstein, who died on Saturday aged 71 after a short illness, led a generation of imaginative civic leaders, providing the framework model for other towns and cities looking to escape the recession of the 1970s and 1980s.

Bernstein’s influence and reputation far exceeded the reach of the average city hall official and he was described by former chancellor George Osborne considered “the star of British local government”. A brilliant fixer and negotiator, his relentless pragmatism took him into any field of opportunity he saw, from the corridors of Whitehall to the palaces of the Middle Eastern sheikhs, in later years often wore a scarf and sovereign rings.

Bernstein’s uncanny ability to seduce, persuade, and adapt would eventually change the face of his city.

Born in April 1953 to Jewish parents in Cheetham Hill, a multicultural suburb north of Manchester, Bernstein’s path to the pinnacle of British civic leadership was then rare and even rarer. Now. Joining city hall immediately after graduating in 1971 as junior clerk, he served in the neo-Gothic area for nearly half a century, rising through the ranks to become chief executive from 1998 to year 2017.

His early years at city hall were formative. By the end of the decade, Manchester and surrounding towns were losing 121 manufacturing jobs a day and the reason for the conurbation’s existence remained unclear. “We just lost our way,” Bernstein said.

By the mid-1980s, Manchester’s political leadership was replaced by a new generation of Labor councilors, impatient with change. The city’s leaders, first under Graham Stringer and then Richard Leese, concluded that pragmatism – including dialogue with their Conservative opponents in Westminster – was essential for success. economic recovery.

Bernstein’s skills proved crucial. The 1986 acquisition of Manchester Airport by 10 conurbation councils was led by the young officer, still in his 30s. The rebuilding of inner-city slums in Hulme in the early 90s, a project backed by then Conservative Minister Michael Heseltine, is considered one of Europe’s leading urban regeneration successes. Bernstein called it one of his proudest achievements.

By the time an IRA bomb devastated Manchester’s central business district in 1996, Bernstein – and Leese, who had taken political power days before the explosion – formed a partnership that would last. in 20 years – was able to put Hulme’s Lessons to good use. Always eager to move forward, Bernstein tends not to talk much about rebuilding but admitted in 2017 that pulling together the necessary asset transactions had represented “the biggest intellectual challenge.” ” your.

Bernstein went on to help secure not only the 2002 Commonwealth Games but also its legacy, negotiating for his beloved Manchester City to move into the stadium built for the games. When the football club was bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, Bernstein used Manchester City as a fulcrum for the regeneration of the surrounding post-industrial area.

His relentless pursuit of delivery inspired respect, confidence and a measure of awe across sectors. Knighted in 2003 for his services to the city, his message to the private sector as well as government was the same: Manchester is open for business.

Not every gamble is successful. He admitted efforts to introduce a congestion charge to boost investment in public transport – a move rejected by a 2008 referendum – had misunderstood the issue. In the years of austerity after 2010, the city’s children’s department failed and homelessness skyrocketed.

However, Bernstein asserts that reviving Manchester’s economy is crucial to the fortunes of the city’s poor. As Osborne settled into life at the Treasury, Bernstein helped convince him of the untapped economic opportunity that the north of England offered, securing for Greater Manchester Britain’s first devolution deal outside London in 2014.

By the time he retired, much of Manchester looked significantly different from the post-industrial wasteland that provided the backdrop for Bernstein’s early career. Foreign investment poured into the city centre, the population boomed and the conurbation soon showed signs of starting to close the productivity gap with London.

When asked in retirement how he was able to persuade people to follow his ideas, Bernstein was characteristically straightforward.

“I put the city first,” he said. “I said clearly if you don’t want to do it, give way to someone else.”

Bernstein lived a few miles from where he was born, in Prestwich, Bury, until his death. He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, two children and three stepchildren.

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