Sunday, April 28, 2013

Andrew Adonis in Manchester - very impressed

Lord Andrew Adonis is one of life’s true gents. For a start he’s quite insistent you call him Andrew. A charming, energetic and really positive force of ideas and curiosity. But he’s also something of an enigma in politics.

He is a switcher, an avowed social democrat, he has changed his party allegiance rather than his values, just as the parties have pivoted on changing political poles. An early member of the SDP, a former LibDem councillor who later found a home in Tony Blair’s New Labour, he was also wooed by the ConDem coalition as a potential minister following the election of 2010.

He also comments freely on how he looks - wiry and wispy - and not at all like an Adonis - “Apart from my own name, the Transpennine Express is the greatest misnomer of all time..” is a typical self-deprecating comment. Yet I find him massively persuasive and charismatic. When he spoke at the Chamber dinner in 2010 he went down better than the comedian - and that was Michael McIntyre!

Tony Blair made him a peer which meant he has never had to stand for and hold a seat in the House of Commons. Yet the evidence of last Friday was that he would have made a terrific constituency MP. He seems genuinely interested in people and how to find solutions to their problems and challenges, but then he has the flexibility to focus on where he really can make a difference - leadership, educational entrepreneurship and transport initiatives.

So Downtown was thrilled last week to host Andrew Adonis on a day of looking around the North West. His first call was under my care at a breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel.

His three big specialisms are transport, education and regional economic development. Inevitably, these are linked.

I asked him about the work he’s doing in the North East - LEPs working together, a skills revolution, a Combined Authority, an “Oyster” style travel card that works across trains and buses. This was informed massively by the Greater Manchester model.

I asked him as well about the potential for London’s ever powerful Mayor and the clout it gives our capital - “when I was Transport Secretary and I got a call from the Mayor of London I took that call”. He agreed that cities like Manchester need them too - “Manchester should have a mayor. In time this will happen”, though admitted it is a tough argument to make amongst all three parties.

He was also on sparkling form in talking about the urgent need to develop apprenticeships and reduce the number of kids who aren’t in education, employment or training.

We then arranged for him to visit UK Fast, the award winning data hosting business led by Laurence Jones.

Lord Adonis was just the latest in a series of high profile, influential and thought leading figures to work with us on crafting our Northern revolution agenda. We want to stimulate a fresh approach to business engagement, a higher priority to regional needs and a recognition that our great cities and counties and communities are not the problem to the economic malaise of this country, but are part of the solution.

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