Manchester Matters

A Quora Comment, A Comment Answered

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Image: Paul Grogan Photography

by Ethar Alali

I got into a conversation on Quora off the back of an answer by someone about London. Being the ashamedly proud Manc that I am, I jumped to it’s defence by highlighting some of the things the city has from an economic standpoint.

I don’t think it’s city size that makes a difference, as there are bigger cities I’ve lived in around the world that were way more friendly. Though I take your point about cities like Moscow. In one particular case, even though the country as a whole, had a dubious human rights record, the people were surprisingly nice. Peculiar case that one though.

It’s more that we, in “the North”, are way more straight talking. If you’re doing a good job, we’ll tell you honestly, if you’re being an idiot, we’ll also tell you honestly. That brutal honesty is taken by some as being “rude”, but they also forget that when we are being nice, we genuinely mean it. I’m sorry, the truth hurts (or soothes).

Plus, that honesty completely eradicates the need for organisational politics (which I’m sure you’re aware, is a total time and energy sap) or the sniping that comes along from “keeping up with the Jones’es”. You absolutely know where you stand with pretty much everyone. It’s why cities like Manchester are considered a city of “doers”. We don’t take kindly to people who try to “sell” themselves through interviews (every interview my company runs has a test of some sort to eradicate those that are all mouth and no trousers).

Also, perhaps stupidly, we Mancunians don’t market like London does. Hence, we don’t get anywhere near as much investment (indeed, Manchester has one of the worst investment records in Europe). Yet, when you crunch the numbers, Manchester makes 10 times as much for every pound of investment as London does (though of course, the volume of money that’s triaged in and out of London overall dwarfs Manchester’s by a factor of 4). Like the evolution of Londoners to London, Manchester has had to do the same with investment.

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The North West has 22 billion pound turnover unicorns, which comes as a surprise to most people. However, you won’t have heard of many of these companies.

Essar Oil? Like Accrington Stanley “Who are they?” (Sorry if it might be a bit before your time). They took £6.74 billion in sales in 2015. This is of course, not to mention that the UK’s second city for most of London and the world’s top law and accounting firms is Manchester. Didn’t have to market a thing.

Note also, all the North West’s biggest companies are UK independent entities and if you ranked them against London’s top earners, 10 of the Mancunian set would appear clustered together at the base of in London’s top 10. So we do alright for a city of our size :)

Personally, I think it also has to do with concentration of people per square mile of city land, together with infrastructure. That causes problems with transportation infrastructure (jams, higher prices near public transport, especially where cities have congestion charge zones). The limitation in scaling out cities, or housing causes demand and strains people. This strain has to do somewhere and as we saw from Brexit, it can be directed at the wrong thing.

After Ms Stefani expressed her surprise at how well Manchester did, I continued:

As I said, you’d be surprised :) In the last 2 to 3 years or so, the GVA of Manchester increased 30%. It now contributes almost £100 billion a year to the GVA of the UK, but because it happened in such a short period of time, the national level statistics can’t reflect it (they sample every 3 to 5 years). Though you started to see the rumblings of it in the last sample form the ONS (North West third in the UK at regional level).

The figures for Greater Manchester for 2014 (reported in 2015) show the GVA for the region at £149.9 billion. However, Greater Manchester in 2013 was £38 bn, up to £57 bn in 2014. Indeed, it exploded in 2015 and is up by more than 60% as the GVA for the combined authority stands at over £90 billion(est) now. But again, we have to wait until the national figures are published from the samples in a year or two to get the actual figures as compared with nationally.
It stands to reason. The BBC and other large companies moving headquarters up here will naturally push the GVA up (though the effect on London of the loss will be less severe than the amount Manchester gains I’d argue).
Manchester a relaxed city? Yeah, relative to London, I’d agree, though it has a lot of buzz depending on when and where you go. Though London isn’t itself efficient. It’s anything but in my experience.

There is a funny tale I tell. I have a “London mode”. As soon as I step off the train at Euston, my walking speed quickens by an extra 1 mph (and I walk quickly anyway — so we’re up to 5.5 mph and I weigh 19st with usually a 10kg rucksack and a small suitcase of some sort). That walking speed is pretty much the fastest you can get on the tube and when changing between Monument and Bank, I’ll blast blast my own train’s passengers, catch up with the next Tube’s “secretions”, overtake them and catch up with the tail end of the train in front of them. It’s excellent exercise, though rasps the inside of my nose and throat with all the breathing I do [that sucks in carbon dust and the like]. It means I’m usually recovering from a really bad cold when I get back.
When I left to return to the North after living the London life many years ago, I was on a train wondering how I’d remember it. I found I needed to blow my nose. So I did. As some of us do, I immediately looked at it and noted the circular rings of carbon dust that bounded whatever other nefarious content came out of me. It occurred to me that the contents of that Kleenex summed it up perfectly.

Does this chime with you? What’s your experience of the city? I know there are lots of funny things we do up here. Let us know!

Written by

EA, Stats, Math & Code into a fizz of a biz or two. Founder: Automedi & Axelisys. Proud Manc. Citizen of the World. I’ve been busy

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