Friday, May 31, 2013

The brainy city

Quite rightly Manchester is lauded for its sporting and cultural contribution to the world. But there is also vast tradition of new ideas born of the city’s bold intellectual curiosity. Free trade capitalism, female suffrage, communism, vegetarianism, even the founding principles of the Co-operative movement were rooted in proud traditions of thought and new ideas in Manchester.
All the major political parties seem to be struggling to connect with what they really stand for. Instead of riding the technological wave of change, they seem to be drowned by it. And too often debate is quickly polarised – free speech for idiots, slogans without substance – can someone explain the difference between One Nation Labour, Red Tory and Blue Labour?
Over the next few weeks we’ll be inviting Downtown members and anyone interested in thinking a bit harder to join with us on raising the level of debate and articulating a Northern perspective on the major issues of our day.
It was one of the characteristics that attracted me to Downtown last year, a readiness for a growing group of people in our cities to approach our events with an open mind. In fact the last two events I’ve hosted have seen Lord Adonis encourage an educational revolution that is refreshing and bold, while TechHub’s Doug Ward kicked off an event with reference to the principles of Boulder theory and how a thriving technology ecosystem can thrive, inspired by Boulder in Colorado, a thriving enterprising city in the Rocky Mountains.
I’ve just spent a couple of days at Hay Festival in mid-Wales. There wasn’t much talk about start-ups and finance, but there was a real energy around understanding how technology is influencing how we learn and how quickly the world is changing. Eric Schmidt from Google had been there earlier in the week tackling big global issues, and no doubt being mugged on where his company pays its taxes.
There were thousands of people at this “Woodstock of the mind”, talking about a vast range of subjects, history, environment, creativity and there was also a fascinating analysis of the forthcoming Ashes series by Michael Vaughan, but that’s another story.
But the point of me mentioning all of this is that I’m particularly excited by our forthcoming events. An EU debate in Manchester on June the 27th, the Northern Revolution conference on July the 4th at MediaCity in Salford Quays. We’ve assembled a really impressive cast list of men and women with a vital contribution to this process of the exploration of ideas for what kind of world we are creating for our children in the north of England.
My good pal Mike Emmerich coined the phrase Brainy City in a speech at MIPIM. Science is a massive part of our future, but there is so much more to go at besides. Let’s all of us raise our aspirations, let’s do more of this kind of thing in Manchester.
Apart from anything, Hay-on-Wye is a dog to get to.
(pic above from Finn Beales, Hay Festival)

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My mate #20 - Bill Routledge

Cass Pennant, Bill Routledge and me
It's been a while since I did one of these for this blog's "my mate" series. I haven't run out of mates or anything, I've just been a bit tardy doing anything at all for this blog. But as a lot of people ask how I met Bill Routledge and how I got to publish his book, Northern Monkeys, here we go.

Bill is the first author for my new book publishing venture. He's a good mate of my brother-in-law Dave Tinkler and we were introduced after his last book, Waiting for Glory came out. It's incredible to think how far we've come since we first met four years ago for a drink and a chat about possibly working together on me helping him curate a collection of stories about the fashion around football culture, something we're both drawn to.

Now that we've published Northern Monkeys I can say with full confidence that I count Bill as a friend. I wouldn't have done so had I not met my side of the bargain and published a product I was proud of did to do true justice to all the hard work and graft he's put in to it.

In the foreword to the book he thanks me first, acknowledging my support on a sometimes lonely road. That means a hell of a lot as the world can be full of trickery and people who let you down. It also tells you something of the effort required to produce such a weighty tome.  I hope I can live up to that respect. But what struck me about Bill is his own personal sense of honour. It shines through not only the honest writing, the fulsome accounts of life in the world he has inhabited, but also the deep trust he's managed to secure with such a staggering breadth of people from so many walks of life.

At the Fanatic Live event last week at the National Football Museum his wife Jackie was reflecting on all of this and on how different we were, but I don't see it like that. I'm always drawn to people who are curious and interested in things. Bill is like that. He reads widely, takes on a lot of different influences and never stops learning.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Downtown welcomes you to TechHub

BLCrCWACUAA7IPk One of my priorities for Downtown Manchester in Business is to introduce groups of people to one another so they can make the city a better place to do business.

This was my motivation behind an event at TechHub, the incubator and shared workspace in Carver’s Warehouse in the Northern Quarter. It was a great success, Doug Ward from TechHub, Gareth Burton from Burton Beavan who provides me and techHub with financial advice, and Josh from Melbourne Hosting all gave their own perspective on how this ecosystem can connect in Manchester.

I’ll mention the context a little more – the event was informal, laid back and we served pizza and bottled beer. It also took place at 4pm on a Friday before the spring bank holiday at the end of May, a complete no-no in every events handbook I’ve ever read (or written). But it worked. All to do with the spirit of thinking differently.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

We need to talk about London

There is currently a move towards fiscal independence and partial devolution that could threaten the functioning of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state as we know it. No, not those troublesome Scots again, but a growing resentment in London that the capital is indeed another country, a thriving city state with its own talismanic government, structural needs, a tax base and different policy agenda.

OK, hold that thought for a moment. At our Downtown conference in July, Northern Revolution, we will be debating the issue of London with an illustrious panel. We will be examining “the London effect” and how it may direct the regional policy revolution we need to unlock the potential of the North.

Sometimes we can run away with ourselves and misunderstand the nature of the challenges the regional cities face. Helpfully, the view of the Core Cities group, of which Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are a part, is this: “We all need London to continue to succeed, but it is unhelpful and incorrect to see growth elsewhere in the country simply as displacement from the South East. This severely limiting concept stymies the national ability to recover and grow.”

This isn’t just chatter, it was produced as evidence to a commission unleashed by London Mayor Boris Johnson after his re-election last year which has just made a bold case for London to control more of its own taxes than central government. You can link to the full report Raising the Capital, The Report of the London Finance Commission here.

To cut to the chase, here’s the conclusion: “A more devolved system implies both a need to remove government borrowing limits on London government and need to devolve revenue streams in the form of taxation to London government.”

The call for more devolution from London has to be seen as an opportunity for all our cities to develop the right models for new times. At our excellent Leader’s Lunch earlier this month, Sir Richard Leese came as close as he ever has to supporting the idea for a powerful metropolitan mayor for the Greater Manchester city region. However, he made the point that the London mayoral model would be as inadequate for Manchester as the pale small city model that Liverpool and Bristol have adopted.

Indeed, the very smart city deal that Manchester secured is viewed quite enviously by the London commission, who believe using the proceeds of growth in our city region is a good model.

Where I think this is a case of London having its cake and eating it, is how the national structures of the country have inevitably caused the growth of our capital. It is the financial, political, cultural, media and an international transport hub. All our transport runs into London, it is the mother ship, the death star, into which all roads and railways lead. There is no policy plank on which any serious attempt to grow other cities is being pursued with any real vigour. That’s where there is a need for a confident, bold and progressive policy revolution.

I had a peek over the paywall into David Aaronovitch’s excellent column in the Times this week, where he pretty much nailed the politics of today. He said an emerging fault line in British public life was emerging over issues like gay marriage, Europe and ‘political correctness gone mad’. In the shires, the Daily Mail and the narrow UKIP agenda matters, in the cities, it does not.

And the conclusion: “So we may need to secede from the hinterland. And the same is true of our other great cities and university towns which, together, could make an outward-looking, open-minded polity.”

There is a risk that we descend into chippiness, pretty much like the Scots have, where actually our Northern cities find common cause with each other and with London, over many important issues. These include business growth, a flexible approach to core technology skills and an immigration policy that recognizes what growing technology companies need from international labour markets. All important for a strong London indeed, but equally for the strong cities of the North too.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

I did an interview with those fine folk at Huddled (by...

I did an interview with those fine folk at Huddled (by HuddledNW). Things I like, the good people, the influences and where to go.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

An audience with Cass Pennant

BKf8lcxCUAEL0eZ Well, when I started on my own I wanted variety – to be involved in live events beyond just business. I also wanted to work with different festivals and different events companies to learn new methods and push myself.

On Friday the 17th of May at the National Football Museum I did a live interview on stage with the author and film maker Cass Pennant. It was an introduction to the live screening of Casuals, the DVD which charts the history of this much misunderstood and ever evolving youth cult. Cass had been a major face on the hooligan scene in the 1980s and is long since retired from West Ham’s Inter City Firm. His exploits there, and since, have been immortalised in books and a film Cass, starring Nonso Anozie.

The event was the third in the Fanatic series of fan events promoted by events company Ear to the Ground. I did the first one last year which was a very academic and intellectual examination of fan culture.

So, how did it go?

This is what Cass said on Facebook: “Last night at the National Football Museum in Manchester had the opportunity to bring the film to a larger audience when screened the documentary Casuals as part of the – Fanatic Live event and it was a great success. I attended and held a Q & A session which certainly added value. Everyone that went (some 150) left the screening feeling the film was very well-done.”

Cass is a great story teller and he gave a great tease into the film, cueing up some of the subjects, looking into some of his career highlights, and telling the stories he weighed up very skillfully that the audience were here to lap up.

All I can do as the questioner is to lead him. As this blog is about the event craft I wanted to mention how well Cass dealt with the young lads who were clearly in awe of his hooligan legacy. They raced to the front to sit in the front row and really enjoyed his old war stories. But Cass didn’t patronise them, as I may have been tempted to, or cut them off, instead he made the point to me that this is a great opportunity to open their eyes to the rest of the museum, to films and books. You just never know how that might then go.

I was also chuffed to get a good reaction from Cass for the questions I prepared beforehand. He does a lot of events and is always ready to be interviewed, but he did say how he gets fed up when people haven’t bothered to prepare. So there you are. A lot of people will know I can do business events, technology seminars and a bit of politics. I was really pleased with this as it shows I can work in other areas of popular culture as well.

It was also a good opportunity to sell a few copies of Northern Monkeys by William Routledge, the book I published and am actively promoting. I am delighted with how this is going and there is plenty of scope to do more live events around this fantastic subject.


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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Manchester’s Going Dutch

Plans to bring a Northern European urban experience to Northern England are part of an ambitious plan to make Manchester the cycling capital of the country.

If you haven’t signed it yet, then please support Vélocity 2025 , Greater Manchester’s bid for funding to radically improve the cycle ways of the city.

I must admit to being a recent convert to the joys of two wheeled transport. I bought a smart new folding bike last year. I will confess that for a big chunk of the winter it remained folded in the back of my car.

Now the weather is better, so my bike is out again, and it is a joy to be alive.

When you start cycling, you do see the world very differently. It is also true that many cyclists maintain a lofty moral high ground, while other road users resent many of their flexible adherence to rules and codes. However, on balance, until I see hospital wards full of angry white van men and injured bus drivers mown down by lycra clad couriers, I know where my sympathies lie.

However, these clashes brought me to a swift conclusion that barely used cycle lanes were a waste of time. The better option is proper cycle only lanes.

Manchester seems to have embraced this in the grand plan too with some really progressive and radical thinking around the planning of new cycleways in and around the whole of the city region.

The most dramatic change proposed is closing a half mile stretch of Oxford Road around the University to cars. I’m sure there are people who will rant and rave about that, but it is such a positive step.

So, the bones of the bid are for £20 million of national investment, to be spent over two years, to make cycling safer and easier. If successful this will be the first phase of the ambitious Vélocity 2025 strategy which will see cycling in Greater Manchester transformed over the next 12 years.

It comes as part of the government’s Cycle City Ambition Grant (CCAG), which offers financial support for ambitious long-term plans for cycling in British cities and city regions.

Greater Manchester wants to kick-start a generational shift with a programme that has the potential to make cycling a part of everyday life and increase, by 2025, the number of people cycling by 300%.

If CCAG funds are awarded, they would unlock cycling investment for Vélocity 2025 worth £150 to £200 million from a range of public and private partners.

Check the Vélocity 2025 document out and hopefully it will convince you to add your support.

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Fergie - the greatest

OK, so everyone is praising Sir Alex Ferguson today, and why not. What he has achieved has been staggering. The picture above was taken at Gulliver's on Oldham Street in 1986 shortly after he'd joined Manchester United. He accepted an invitation to come along with his number two Archie Knox and talk to a Football Supporters Association public meeting - we attracted about 100 people. It shows how much football has changed in all that time.

He also did an interview for North West Business Insider when I was editor in 2009. In that piece he discussed retirement, saying it may come in three or four years, well, it's been almost four now. Here's what he told Jim Pendrill, who did the interview:

“Since I said I was going to retire and changed my mind I think people think I will be here forever,” he says. “Some days I wonder myself. It could be three or four years, other mornings you wake up and think ‘have I done enough’. Then you get to the training ground, see the lads and you know how much you love it.”
But when Ferguson does finally decide to walk away he won’t disappear overnight: “I have been on the treadmill for so long that when I come off I cannot just stop.”
He says he is comfortable with some kind of ambassadorial role at United, but adds that “you never know” what’s around the corner.
But finding the right moment to go will be tough. “I have a new team and want to see that mature, so picking the moment is difficult,” he says. “One, getting off the treadmill; two, because of how much I’m enjoying it; and the third thing, which may decide everything, is my health. So far I’m not too bad.”

Interesting too that he paid tribute to the Glazer family. That may not go down too well amongst the faithful, but as foreign owners of football clubs go, they aren't the worst are they?

Friday, May 03, 2013

The City of Manchester Business Awards – and some general points on presenting awards

Insider's North West Young Professionals Awards 2011 at The Lowry Hotel.  My last awards presentation job was in March hosting the City of Manchester Business Awards for Downtown, of whom I am chairman in Manchester. It seems a good opportunity today to remember seven golden rules I have which I implemented at this event and many others over the years, such as the Manchester Young Professionals Awards (pictured).

1. It’s not about you – the stars of the show are the people coming up to get an award. Be confident, have authority, but don’t hog the stage and project your personality all over the event. And don’t tell jokes.
2. On no account be sleazy or flirty with women on stage, swear or remove articles of clothing. This is the most toe-curling thing you can do. As these are business awards making comments and drawing attention to how someone looks is a massive show of disrespect for their abilities as a business person.
3. Let everyone know how the winners were chosen – so many awards lack credibility. Rightly or wrongly they are seen as a sop to sponsors. Making efforts to explain exactly how the awards were won is essential.
4. Make the winners and shortlisted feel special. This is an important occasion for them, it matters. Make sure you congratulate them, discourage triumphalism, encourage humility. Make eye contact and shake hands with them. And get their names and company names right. Check everything.
5. Keep a pace to the event. There’s a thin line between rattling through categories too fast and making everyone else there engaged. The important time to get this right is at the script stage. Edit and tune the script, check everything. If there’s time, encourage a winner to say a few words of thanks, but not if they seem intoxicated. The very best way is to do a short question and answer with a handheld microphone. You can always politely remove it if they’re rambling.
6. Never tell the audience to shush. I’ve made this mistake once and it just makes things worse. If people are talking then there are many more devices to get round this. You don’t have to demand they are quiet. It’s their night too – help them enjoy it.
7. Enjoy it. Be warm, be natural, but above all have fun. I’ve seen highly paid professional comedians and public figures treat the whole thing as a chore. This is so disrespectful to everyone there. Instead, show how much fun you are having by sharing in the joy of others. Remember it’s a celebration.
I say all of this because of some feedback I had from the Downtown Manchester event. I took it in good stead, it was basically comparing my role as an awards host that night with my interviewing style when I interviewed Fred Done on stage a couple of years ago. It’s chalk and cheese. That was about Fred and me having a chat and making him shine; just me and him. Awards are so very different. I actually don’t want anyone to remember too much of what I do at an awards. I want them to remember the winners, like the woman in the picture above, Joanne Dennis-Jones from Deloitte.

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