Manchester

Sir Howard Bernstein: Council chief looks back at Manchester's transformation

Sir Howard Bernstein smiling in March 2017
Image caption Mancunians are "proud, passionate and edgy", Sir Howard said

Manchester City Council's veteran chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein has retired.

Sir Howard was 17 when he walked in to Manchester Town Hall to start his first job as a junior clerk. His first task? Pot washing.

The boy from Cheetham Hill would walk out 46 years later credited with transforming the city.

"Ever since I was a boy I knew I wanted to make a difference to the people of Manchester", he said.

"Growing up in my community, you had a social conscience."

Image copyright Howard Bernstein
Image caption Howard Bernstein grew up in Cheetham Hill

Sir Howard said 1970s Manchester "still had soul, but had lost its way. It had been left behind by globalisation. I was looking for the opportunity to change all of that."

Opportunities can come in the most grotesque of forms, and in 1996 the Manchester bomb was his.

Some people call the IRA explosion the best thing that ever happened to Manchester. He disagrees.

"It was an appalling time in every Mancunian's life. It was devastating. It took us a long time to recover."

Sir Howard was appointed chief executive in 1998 and remembers a time of political compromise.

"We were a staunch Labour council but we knew the value of working with the Conservatives.

"We knew it was time to open up to market forces and investment and working across political lines. We put Manchester first."

Image copyright PA/BBC
Image caption Then and now: Sir Howard is widely credited with inspiring the regeneration of Manchester following the 1996 IRA bomb

It worked and by 2003 Manchester was aesthetically transformed.

The city council became the first local authority to win the RIBA client of the year.

It was also the year he was knighted - though his biggest career sadness is that his parents were not alive to witness the day.

Just don't talk to him about the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

"The whole period leading up to the games was sheer agony for me. Securing and maintaining funding was unbelievably stressful. I couldn't wait for them to finish."

Though they did lead to one positive outcome for him - his beloved Manchester City was able to move to what became the City of Manchester stadium.

Did he declare personal interest in securing the move?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Manchester City moved to the City of Manchester stadium, now known as the Etihad Stadium

"I didn't need to. My love for the club is as good as written on my flesh. And besides, City was the only show in town to make the stadium permanent."

When asked about his biggest achievement he is keen to talk about the regeneration of Hulme.

"It was 15 years of engaging with residents to make sure we got it right. Erecting something like Beetham Tower is much easier. This was transforming communities, people's lives. Look at it now."

Does he think his city can continue to grow at the same rate it has for the last 20 years?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "I hope I've done my best for Manchester," Sir Howard said

"Undoubtedly. There is a growth path which is unprecedented. My question is how fast, and how much more we'll grow? Not if."

Sir Howard says Mancunians have not seen the last of him, but there are things he wants to do with his family, "while I still have something in the tank."

And how will he remember his fellow Mancunians?

"Proud, passionate, edgy, and want to do the best for themselves and for the city. That's the motto I live by. I hope I've done my best for Manchester."

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