Manchester City Council’s chief executive Joanne Roney had what she describes as a ‘brutal introduction to the job’. Before the signature on her contract was dry, a radical Islamist had blown himself up murdering 22 people during a concert in the city’s arena.
This was a terrible tragedy. However, she says, in the aftermath she was able to see the city at its ‘very best’. Manchester came together and responded ‘brilliantly’ which, in turn, allowed Joanne to get a feel for her new area. ‘In many ways,’ she explains, ‘whilst that was a very tough time for me personally, it was also a platform from which I got a sense of the place very quickly.’
I sat down with Ms Roney at Mipim 2017 to hear how her first six months with the city council has been. I was also able to chat with the council leader Richard Leese.
What attracted Ms Roney most to the chief executive position was the Our Manchester strategy. The culmination of a consultation that reached tens of thousands, the strategy is a vision aimed at placing Manchester in ‘the top flight of world-class cities by 2025’, as the website blurb puts it.
It is, essentially, designed to create a competitive, dynamic and sustainable economy in the northern city - one that is internationally connected and possessing a skilled workforce. And Ms Roney sees her role as putting this into practice. As she puts it, her job is to ‘take that strategy and translate it into practical application inside the council but also with our wider communities and our partners.’
She also wants the council to get the basics right. Despite the city’s economic growth, she acknowledges the benefits have not trickled down to all communities. There’s a lot more that needs to be done to ensure all the city’s residents are supported.
‘Work around getting our basic services for children right; getting our streets clean; getting the environmental standards improved around the city; getting access to work, to skills, education.’ These are just some of the basics Joanne feels need attending to.
And addressing health and social care issues in the city is high on her list of jobs. In the Our Manchester strategy the council committed to tackling health inequalities and improving health outcomes for Manchester’s residents. To this end, they are taking a more joined up approach to health and social care.
Last April, the North Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Central Manchester CCG and South Manchester CCG were consolidated to make NHS Manchester CCG. This allowed for a partnership arrangement with the city council to create a single commissioning function for health and social care, called Manchester Health and Care Commissioning.
‘We’ve reconfigured our CCGs and put them alongside community services and hospitals and council social care, and created whole new integrated teams based out in localities,’ Ms Roney explains. There is one team in place so far but, she says, there will be more once some VAT issues are resolved.
Council leader Richard Leese points out health and social care services across the country are ‘rapidly going over a cliff edge’. ‘I don't think integration will necessarily resolve all of that but it will mitigate some of the worst impacts,’ he says. ‘More importantly its about getting different outcomes for people,’ Cllr Leese continues. ‘We currently have a system that is principally about crisis intervention. We need to turn that around to be an early intervention model that promotes a well-being rather than sickness service.’
Both agree on the main point: getting Manchester’s growth agenda right is the key for everything else to fall into place. Ms Roney spoke at Mipim on how to attract developers to your city. She emphasised the need to guarantee stability and certainty, and stressed the importance of having an ambitious council.
Describing what they’re doing in Manchester, Ms Roney said they are taking a holistic approach to development. ‘This is about regenerating the city centre but with a view to it being not just about meeting the commercial needs for growth but also creating new neighbourhoods, very sustainable places where people will live,’ she explains.
Cllr Leese stresses the importance of a long-term relationship between the council and developers. ‘The developers who are most successful in Manchester are the ones that take a long-term approach, that want to develop a relationship with the place,’ he says.
I ask Ms Roney about devolution and she does not prevaricate: ‘Can we honour the devolution deal that we’ve already got?’ she asks. They are still waiting for movement from Whitehall on skills, children’s services, and worklessness among other issues. Cllr Leese stresses that more power over skills for 16+ is vital for Manchester’s future economic viability.
But the key point, Ms Roney concludes, is that devolution is going to be critical for the delivery of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. ‘Greater Manchester is the place where the Industrial Strategy will get delivered and I think we’re saying give us the powers locally for us to be able to do the joining up that will make the big difference in delivering those huge infrastructure projects.’