IN GIANT’S FOOTSTEPS.
How does Manchester Council avoid the “Alex Ferguson” problem in finding a successor to the retiring Chief Executive, Sir Howard Bernstein? You know the problem, Brown after Blair and Moyes after Ferguson.
Bernstein has worked for the local authority for 45 years and for the last 18 years has been Chief Executive. In that time the city has left behind the trauma of the IRA bomb in 1996 to become the leading city in the North. Throughout Sir Howard has sent a message to the private sector that the city is open for business. As a result Manchester has the feel of a young city for entrepreneurs that can look London in the eye.
His other achievement has been to respect the political process. Nobody elected him. The people’s mandate is held by Sir Richard Leese who has been leader throughout Sir Howard’s tenure, a remarkable partnership in its longevity and effectiveness. Such partnerships are rare and can go wrong. We remember the bust up in Liverpool between Chief Executive David Henshaw and leader Mike Storey. Bernstein and Leese have known where the boundary lies between local government officer and politician.
Bernstein is widely regarded as one of the leading figures in local government and the former Chancellor George Osborne recognised this in his efforts to found the Northern Powerhouse.
It has not all been plain sailing for Sir Howard. He failed to get the congestion charge and the BBC to locate their new headquarters in the city. Critics say he was more interested in shiny new buildings than the council’s basic services. He has been dismissive of charges that the devolution deal lacked democratic endorsement.
That said the town hall is losing a giant and the question is, who will succeed him?
The first thing to say is that there aren’t hordes of candidates out there qualified for this, one of the top posts in local government.
One immediately looks at the current Chief Executives in Greater Manchester who have helped in the creation of the Combined Authority. It would be great for a woman to get this job. Donna Hall, holds the top job at Wigan Council and recently won an award for transformational leadership. Theresa Grant used to work for Manchester Council, did a great job running the athlete’s village during the Commonwealth Games and is now Chief Executive at Trafford. Then there is Eamonn Boylan, who served for six years as Sir Howard’s deputy and is currently in charge at Stockport.
There is a strong possibility however that Manchester will want to cast its net wider and bring in a fresh face outside the current “Greater Manchester” family. Charlie Parker cut his teeth with the city’s Inner City Unit and is now Chief Executive of Westminster Council. Sean Harriss, formerly top man in Bolton, is now in charge at Lambeth.
At a recent Downtown event there was a suggestion that a “blue sky approach” might be taken bringing in someone with more of a business background. Would Charlie Cornish, Chief Executive of the Manchester Airport Group, fill the bill?
It will ultimately be a matter for Sir Richard Leese in what may be one of his last big decisions. Few would envy his “Alex Ferguson” dilemma.
Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk