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Episode 1: 'From Liverpool, to Cambridge, to Parliament and beyond' - Transcript

Armoghan Mohammed:

Hello and welcome to Northern Lights podcast series, where over the coming months I will be having a number of discussions with key individuals from across the North, business leaders, politicians, recognised social workers, charity heads, basically anybody who is making an unique and valuable contribution to the future of the North.

My name is Armoghan Mohammed, and I am PwC’s regional chair for the North. I am delighted to be here in our virtual studio with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester. Andy, a very warm welcome, thank you very much, thanks a lot for joining this.

Andy Burnham:

You are welcome Armoghan, it’s great to be able to be with you, and I know how many people you have working in City Centre Manchester, good to be able to, through this podcast, to be able to speak them too, so thanks for having me on.

Armoghan:

I am going to dive straight in, Andy. Like me you’ve got an upbringing in the North, and I would love to hear what was it like growing up in the North, and in fact how did it influence the type of person that you are today?

Andy:

I have got a tricky secret as mayor of Greater Manchester, which is that I was born in Liverpool, people probably know that by now. They’ve worked out, I am an Everton supporter, but when I was one, my dad got a job in Manchester. He and my mum decided to move halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, and I grew up in that area, the Leigh area, which I went on to represent in parliament. I am very much of the Northwest, I love both cities. I have got an affinity to both and they were both a big part of my upbringing. Manchester for music, Liverpool for football, both of them for fashion, and everything, culture and everything. Of course, it was the 1980s, the Northwest was going through some really tough times.

The things that really shaped me and turned me into the politician I became, were a couple of things. Firstly, going from a Merseyside comprehensive to Cambridge in 1988, told me that this country was in fact two very different worlds, where there were different life chances on offer to people living in different places and going to different schools. That was an eye-opening experience, if I am honest. Then separately, given the 1980s and the things that I had seen at close quarters, the miners strike in the Leigh area. It was when Hillsborough happened at the end of the 1980s, when it all came home quite personally, around, I don’t know, the sense of injustice really about how people in the North were treated and were treated at that time. Many of my friends were at that match and I lived that in a very direct way with them.

That is what shaped me really. It was that upbringing I attribute, I can count myself so lucky to have grown in the Northwest of England. I don’t believe there is a better place with better people anywhere in the world, but it has faced it’s challenges, and it has made us what we are in terms of some of our outlook on life. I hope that explains the question, so much more I could say there, but those were my formative years.

Armoghan:

That’s very helpful, thank you, and interesting. What’s the journey then from that recognition of some of the inequality, how did that then translate into politics, because you didn’t need to go into politics, you could have gone into other cycles and still be contributing to society?

Andy:

That’s true, my family wasn’t political. Normally people might expect my parents to have been counsellors or activists, and they weren’t in any way shape or form, they were interested in politics, and they talked to us, myself and my brothers about it a lot, but not in a way that was overtly political. I had become quite politicised in the 1980s, then went into university, wasn’t a student politician actually. It was leaving university in the early 1990s, when I was really emotionally invested in the 1992 general election and I wanted so much a change, which as I saw it, a change that would benefit the Northwest, and it didn’t come. At that point in my career, I was a journalist at that time. I started my career after Cambridge at the Middleton Guardian as an unpaid reporter. That was my very first job out of university, but it was that general election that took me from being interested in politics, to actively wanting to pursue a career within it. It was in 1993 that an incredible stroke of luck happened. I was working at a small publishing company in London by then. I was talking to the person I had recruited as my editorial assistant about how keen I was to break out of publishing and get into politics, and she surprisingly said, ‘well, my stepmother is an MP, maybe you should go and work for her.’ The person I was talking to was Eleanor Mills, who eventually became editor of The Sunday Times magazine. It was one of the best recruitment decisions, best talent spotting things I ever did in my life.

Eleanor’s stepmother was Tessa Jowell and I eventually got the job with Tessa Jowell. It was that twist of fate really that took me into the heart of labour politics in the middle 90’s period and then all of the changes that came after that. Life throws these incredible twists of fate at you dont they sometimes Armoghan and you got to go with them, don’t you, and I guess I did in that moment.

Armoghan:

Very much so, I just wanted to focus a little bit on how you think about politics. I don’t know who said this, but there was a quote someone said along the lines of “the difference between a politician and a statesman or a stateswoman is that the politician looks as far as the next election, whereas the stateswoman or statesman looks as far as the next generation”. How do you feel about that in terms of today’s politics and how do you navigate that so that you are actually contributing to both of those as appropriate?

Andy:

I like the statement, I like the differentiation, because I think it’s true, and I certainly would say in the early years when I was an MP, I would definitely have been in the politician category, not the statesperson category. Generally, modern politics is more populated by politicians rather than states-people. There has been a soundbite culture, a short-term culture creeping into politics, a superficial approach, that probably wasn’t there in the 1970s and 1980s. Politicians of that era were bigger figures than they are today, with bigger ambitions. I certainly noticed in my time in politics, a trend towards something that people called retail politics, very simplistic pledges at election times that are meant to be eye-catching, but not actually doing much to really change things. I became weary with that culture, if I am honest with you. I, in the end stopped getting the satisfaction from the point-scoring side of politics, which Westminster really trades on. It is such a place here with the benches facing each other, its stock and trade, is that point scoring tribal approach to politics.

In the end, I went there to change things, as a lot of politicians do, but in the end, I felt I couldn’t pursue some of the things I wanted to do by staying there. I have actually found it quite liberating to leave Westminster and the point-scoring approach to party politics. In the role I am currently in, I can actually pursue longer-term ambitions, and the biggest long-term ambitions always defined my political career, is equality for the North of England, with the same treatment, the same investment, the same opportunity for people living here as people in other parts of the country take for granted.

Armoghan:

Andy how is that going, to one extent, you are clearly a very passionate person, you are passionate for the North, you are passionate around equality, you are actually vocal with it as well. How do you navigate getting the right type of attention for the causes and the passions you have?

Andy:

Work in progress, before the pandemic, Manchester was going great guns, and I think we will be coming out of it. I don’t think that we are struggling to attract inward investment. If you look at the Manchester skyline, it tells a very exciting story, doesn’t it? People have come here; they’ve backed the place. Where I stood for election, I said, I wanted to make Greater Manchester the UK’s leading digital city region. We are now in a clear second place to London. We are Europe’s fastest growing digital and tech hub, which is a fantastic statement for me to able to make as mayor. Obviously, capturing the glory that other people have achieved, but it’s not mine, it’s everybody’s. There has been an incredible change in the city built by many people. If I compare the Manchester of 2021 to the Manchester of 1991, which I came back to after graduating, it is incomparable, absolutely incomparable in terms of the names of organisations that we have now in our city centre including your own with 750 people or so working there. Hopefully, we will tempt some of you back to the office at some time, because we need you to come to your pubs, and come to our restaurants and coffee shops.

Manchester is a growing success story. We’ve always been the challenger to London. I have done a bit of that through this pandemic. There is an edge to Manchester that gives it its appeal and long may that be the case.

Armoghan:

How do we make sure that that carries on into the future, because you are right, this is a moment in time, isn’t it, but how do we make sure that the future is where we want it to be?

Andy:

By setting out a really clear vision of where we all want to go, and that’s my job, isn’t it, to set our vision that people can get behind. So, UK’s leading digital city region, we are well on the way to achieving that. The next part of that vision is the UK's leading green city region. Digitalisation and decarbonisation are the two driving forces of the 21st century economy. Any place that can claim to be a leader in either or both of those things is a place that is going to be a national leader and an international leader.

I will be setting out, as part of the coming mayoral election, hopefully a pretty compelling vision for a digitally connected green leading city region, with a big program of change in our public transport system, clean air zone, the largest cycling and walking network in the UK. This will be attractive for inward investors to come here, but it also is about showing people everywhere in the country that you can have a genuine quality of life living in Manchester and that it’s a place that you can have a London-style living experience in the city centre, but actually so much more if we can make this place, clean up the air, provide better green space, better public transport, then we are starting to show that we are the best place to invest, the best place to live in the UK. 

Armoghan:

Can I take you back to something you said earlier, I’ve been reading various things about interviews you had…

Andy:

That’s worrying.

Armoghan:

Don’t worry you will be fine on the day, there is something around, if I observe you, you grew up in a working class environment, you went to Cambridge, you then went on to parliament, and in some senses you are a poster child for social mobility. Now you’ve returned to your roots in the North. What are the things that really helped you on your journey, and advice you would give to others?

Andy:

It’s such a good question. I am passionate about this, because I am somebody who was lucky in terms of the teachers that I had, the lucky breaks I had, and I mentioned one, working with Tessa Jowell’s stepdaughter, but I did get into the position where I could benefit from those things. I just think there is so much more we need to do to unlock the talent of Greater Manchester. What I battled against all my life is Northern DNA in that I have always feared the tap on the shoulder. I’ve always felt I shouldn’t be here, be it arriving at Cambridge, or into the parliament. Both are winning characteristics, but also a weak point if I can put it that way, what attracts people to Northern is the sense of connection, relatability, and all of that warmth. We do have a tendency to do ourselves down. I certainly feel there is a tendency to think we will be employees, we will work for other people, rather than be employers ourselves.

I am on a bit of a mission to try and smash down some of those self-perpetuating stereotypes of what we are and what we can achieve. I do think though, that it’s about what I learned when I went to Cambridge my dad said to me, you will go there and then the world will open up for you, because of what Cambridge does for you. I’ve always said to him that he was only half right, because what I found was, I did get interviews because of the Cambridge thing on my CV, but I rarely got the job. I often found it was connections that got the job, and I still think that’s the way this country works. Education takes you so far, but it’s the social capital that comes from family connections that actually takes you that extra mile. It's why I’ve set up in Greater Manchester a work shadowing scheme, and I would ask everybody on this call to check it out and hopefully be a part of it.

This is on our GMACS system, the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship and Career service. I want people, who work in your organisation to make yourselves available for young people in Greater Manchester to come and shadow you, experience your world, and get a foot inthe door, and just see what it's like at PwC or organisations like yours, because the latent is there, but it doesn’t know how it can get through the door. We’ve got to find ways of building social capital around young people and some of our less affluent communities, because it's that that often holds people back.

I had to work as an unpaid reporter on the Middleton Guardian, and that sticks in my throat even till today, why, who can do that, that immediately is saying, that opportunity in journalism is going to be linked to somebody with more money than somebody with less. I still think this bedevils our economy and our society and it perpetuates inequality. For me, if I could just summarise it this way, Armoghan, I look at Manchester City Centre today, and as I said before, it is radically different to the Manchester City Centre of my youth, but for the kids in the ten boroughs around the City Centre, they will look at it and they won’t see a world that’s for them. They see that as a world that other people have been moved to come and work in Manchester. Manchester will only be really punching its own weight fully, when the kids growing up around that City Centre look at it and think, ‘I could work there, I could make my future there,’ and that belief carries it all the way through. I don’t think we are there yet, but we are going to get there, and we’ve got to build that talent pipeline into all of our communities. It's why I have done a lot around young people’s opportunities, why I created a free bus pass for all 16 to 18 year olds in Greater Manchester, because I don’t want any barrier to be in their way in terms of connecting them to opportunity. I feel this really passionately, because in my own journey, though I did in some ways navigate the system, and climbed that greasy pole, and I am always an advert of social mobility, I also saw how fragile it was and how lucky I was, and how easy it is for the doors to slam in your face.

Armoghan:

That’s a great shout, inviting PwC and others to join that scheme. Just remind us what that scheme is again.

Andy:

It’s called Meet Your Future, and it’s a work shadowing scheme. It is organised through the GMACS website, the Greater Manchester Apprenticeships and Career Service. We have a team of the combined authority and would love to hear from everybody on this call. The idea is, I don’t know whether you did old fashion work experience, I did, I did two weeks. I said to my school that I, maybe, wanted to work in languages, possibly within the travel industry. The work experience they found for me was two weeks at the Thomas Cook Shop in Saint Helens. The thing that I got from it, the only thing probably was that I didn’t want to work in a shop in Saint Helens all my life. Where old-fashioned work experience, which still exists, can often lower the expectations, if we are not careful.

Work shadowing is so much better, it is easier for organisations to provide it, just like somebody be with you at your elbow for a day, just follow you around, asking a few questions, experience your world, what you are doing, that for me is so much more valuable than just sitting tucked away in the corner making the tea.

Armoghan:

I did have various blue-collar painting jobs and lots of stuff like that along the way.

Andy:

What was your first job?

Armoghan:

It was actually painting an industrial warehouse.

Andy:

I would rather work in Thomas Cooks in Saint Helens, than do what you’ve done.

Armoghan:

Looking at you now, you’ve worn really well, you’ve had an easier newspaper round than me.

Andy:

I did have a newspaper round. The Sunday round was one that lives with me, the weight would tilt me off my bike, it was so heavy.

Armoghan:

Actually, a couple of other things that I really wanted to ask, there is a lot of discussion around leadership, different leadership styles, how people lead, particularly with the listeners of this podcast. How would you describe your leadership style, and what we found really works for you. Secondly, related to that is, how do you get followership, because your followership isn’t just the people you would meet within the environment you work, you’ve actually got a much broader group of people that you achieved followership from?

Andy:

Well I have been in politics a long time, Armoghan. I have obviously been always of the Northwest, so people who do follow me will be rooted here and they know me now, they have seen what I focus on, because I have been around for so long. I have been for 20 years an elected politician in Greater Manchester, this year is the 20th anniversary of that. I just think, people have got to know me, they are not going to be able to avoid me at times, on Granada Reports, BBC Northwest, I have been around. Some may like me, some may not, it is just people probably know me, they know where I am coming from now, that’s a big lacking in the transient world of politics these days.

In terms of leadership style, I am really clear about, I have got a clear answer to your question. I have learned this, I didn’t know it straightaway, but I have learnt it. Firstly, inspire people with something worth following. I said when I became mayor, that I wanted to end rough sleeping, and everyone said, ‘why, that’s too big, why are you saying that’s a hostage to fortune.’ The reason I say this, is because you’ve got to give people big things to motivate them. In the government, I was at least, always used to hear people say, underpromise and over deliver, and I hate that phrase, because who is going to get excited by an under promise, who is going to get lifted by that and motivated by that, I don’t think they will. Then you are not going to over deliver, because you under promised, you haven’t inspired anybody to really commit to it.

I’m the opposite, I would say, aim high, aim for the moon and fall a bit short if necessary, but lift people with a big vision, that’s number one in terms of my leadership recommendation. Then number two, in pursuit of that big vision, be prepared to walk in other people's shoes and particularly in the shoes of people, who you might say are the most junior or the lowest paid members of your team. See it from their perspective, and they have to trust that you know it from their perspective. You will build a team spirit around what you are trying to do. I would say those two things are absolutely core of my leadership style.

Armoghan:

Correct thank you, and that resonates with a lot of us, and it transcends the type of organisation one works in as well. My final question Andy is, you’ve mentioned our PwC people, and we are all looking forward to coming back into the City Centre of Manchester as well, as I am sure, possibly people enjoying all the amazing facilities there, but is there a restaurant, apub or an activity that you just love doing in Manchester, and you would recommend for people to try out as soon as the lockdown opens up.

Andy:

Its music, it always has been, Armoghan. That is the reason why I came to love Manchester in my teenage years. I was really lucky. I was growing up in 1989 when The Stone Roses were getting going. I had it really lucky from the timing point of view, but I formed a massive love of Manchester music at that time.

Even now the buzz of just going to the venues across the city, big and small, I love it and I will go and watch anything, and I do go and watch anything. Obviously, having a beer and pizza or whatever, and that is what I love doing. I miss that so much, honestly. I really have had withdrawal symptoms about that over this year. I saw the Courteeners at the Albert Hall of Manchester in February last year, and I look back on it as a different land, about being in a wonderful venue, just the whole place rocking, yeah, I am missing that so badly. Just absorbing the Manchester music scene is a privilege. It’s one of the reasons why I love being fully based back here now as opposed to London, which I dont think has that intimacy that you get in the Manchester venues, and the friendliness. It’s so nice, that’s another answer to what I am missing. I have got New Order at Heaton Park triple underlined in my diary for September this year and hoping and praying that that happens, but I just want to see the city come back to life. It is going to be a different new isn’t it, that maybe a good new, because the Manchester commute, I am sure anyone listening to this podcast, you aren’t missing that very much, I know, I am not either. Maybe if we are all balancing a bit more from home, a bit more maybe from the local hub, and then a bit more in the offices. As long as we are still coming into the City Centre, to keep the vibrancy, then we can find the new balance here that will work on lots of levels. I am hopeful that we will see that new normal take shape later this year.

Armoghan:

Brilliant, I didnt know about new order, definitely would want to go and watch them. I remember getting up once to a New Order song, Blue Monday, I thought it would be 3 minutes long, but it was about 7 minutes long.

Andy:

It tested your… dance floor stamina.

Armoghan:

Yeah.

Andy, it has been great to hear you talk so passionately about your upbringing, influences, community, and passions, and I found it extremely interesting and I am sure those listening as well.

Thank you very much.

Andy:

You are welcome, thanks for having me on.

I know my passion for the North is more than shared by you and many of the people, who work for PwC in Manchester.

I know that I met many of them, many are my friends.

We’ve just got to all of us, haven’t we, come back stronger from all of this, haven’t we. You will see soon, I will be putting up plans for a London-styled public transport system, a clean air zone, building out the cycling and walking network. I actually think this could well be an opportunity for us to in some ways break away from some of the old way of doing things that we were a bit stuck in the Greater Manchester working week was a bit 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, we could actually breakout of a bit of a rut really, and really create a modern, really attractive liveable city region that will take us even further forward when it comes to bringing in the investment we all want to see.

I am excited about what lies ahead and ready to race the challenges in front of us and I am sure many people listening to this are too.

Armoghan:

Fantastic, Andy thank you very much and I wish you all the best.

Andy:

And to you, thanks Armoghan.

Armoghan:

You’ve been listening to Northern Lights, and this is the first episode in a series of new podcasts, where I will be talking to individuals from across the North, who are making the unique and valuable contribution to the region. If you would like to hear future episodes, please don’t forget to subscribe.

 

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