July 20, 2024

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Howard Bernstein, Manchester’s champion, 1953-2024

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The remaking of post-industrial Manchester ranks among the most remarkable English economic stories of recent decades. Sir Howard Bernstein was its chief author.

As chief executive of Manchester council, Bernstein, who died on Saturday aged 71 after a short illness, spearheaded a generation of imaginative civic leadership, providing a template for other towns and cities seeking to shake off the blight of 1970s and 1980s decline. 

Bernstein’s reach and reputation extended well beyond that of a conventional town hall official and he was described by former chancellor George Osborne as “the star of British local government”. A consummate fixer and dealmaker, his relentless pragmatism took him into any realm he deemed opportune, from the corridors of Whitehall to the palaces of Middle Eastern sheikhs, in later years usually sporting a trademark scarf and sovereign rings.

Bernstein’s singular ability to cajole, persuade and adapt would ultimately change the face of his city.

Born in April 1953 to Jewish parents in the multicultural north Manchester suburb of Cheetham Hill, Bernstein’s path to the top of English civic leadership was rare then and even rarer now. Joining the town hall straight out of school in 1971 as a junior clerk, he served in its neo-gothic environs for nearly half a century, rising up the ranks to become chief executive between 1998 and 2017. 

His early years in the town hall were formative. By the end of the decade, Manchester and its surrounding towns were losing 121 manufacturing jobs every working day and the conurbation’s raison d’être was unclear. “We’d just lost our way,” Bernstein said. 

By the mid-1980s, Manchester’s political leadership had been replaced by a new generation of Labour councillors, impatient for change. The city’s leaders, first under Graham Stringer and later Richard Leese,…



2024-06-22 08:31:02

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