Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The dangers of swagger

I presented to a CBI event this morning.

This is an abridged version of my speech here. I think I may have upset one or two people with references to Manchester getting a bit uppity.

Lately there have been cries that Manchester is – according to the Lonely Planet guide – the UK’s capital city in waiting.

There were claims on a recent visit to New York by several senior members of the slick suited Manchester illuminati that Manchester was many things. "The first modern city of the post industrial age." "The original modern city." "The cradle of the second industrial revolution." "The birth place of the computer." Reading them back verbatim in the pages of the New Yorker was painful. It must serve as a warning that Manchester at times has a tendency to disappear up its own backside of self importance.

Then there is the whole minefield of standing up to London wherein lies a second danger in challenging London. It’s fine to come up with smart slogans that say – it’s grim down south – as the NWDA did - if you can back it up with enough evidence that Manchester is really challenging London. Think carefully though about what kind of city London has become – the centre of music, food, fashion, theatre, finance, retail, brands, major global companies, home to some of the richest people in the world, the home to new ideas and major media voices.

And yet, It IS economically unsustainable. You need to earn £150K a year to really enjoy London.

London is also:

Unaffordable housing.
Crowded infrastructure.
Crime out of control.

Manchester is none of these things - good or bad - and nor should it aspire to be. A touch of humility and a touch of realism can continue to project Manchester on a trajectory of economic and cultural growth that can make it desirable.

If Manchester is to forge a bright future then some integrity and aspiration would not go amiss. Yes, have the swagger, but take everyone with you.

There are gaps in London’s offer
Finance for real businesses
A proper meeting place and a trading community.
Manchester has always been where people come together to share. And is it not true that the art of good business is being a good middleman – putting people together.

The UK needs places for its best creative and entrepreneurial people to live and to be a home to growing businesses in sectors that Britain needs to steal a march on – interactive gaming, environmental technologies, the next generation of the internet.

Business tourism also needs to up its game – by that I mean Manchester as a thriving convention city where there is much to attract everyone from software programmers to tripe dressers.

But what this country needs more than anything is new ideas for a new century. They don't necessarily have to be original, or modern, just the right ones.

Instead of looking to what London has, civic leaders can look at what London can no longer carry, but which the UK needs. And which no other city can offer it in anything like the same way as Manchester.

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