Manchester – Plugging the North South Divide

Plugging the North South Divide

On May 16th 2014, TiE UK North hosted a private lunch at Baker Tilly Manchester for a group of our CEOs and Founders with Sir Simon Jenkins.  

Sir Simon is a journalist and author. Alongside writing for the Guardian as well as broadcasting for the BBC. He has edited the Times and the London Evening Standard and is chairman of the National Trust.   Outside journalism Simon Jenkins has written books on politics, churches and the history and architecture of London. He has also served on the board of British Rail and London Transport, and as Deputy Chairman of English Heritage – having started his career at Country Life.  Simon hosted a lively debate on why Manchester is the key to challenge London’s dominance, and how the city can become a real global economic force.

“Manchester – Plugging the North South Divide”

Sir Simon Jenkins kicks off the event by taking a few moments to discuss his thoughts on Manchester and the city’s integral role in abolishing the country’s north-south divide. In his opinion, the key to a city revolves around a critical mass of creative people that others yearn to be near and in turn, to be associated with. For example, in Manchester, people want to congregate in areas such as Castlefield and Northern Quarter, because here lies the creative minds of the city and it is in these districts that experiences are positive and blooming. It is this plurality of nodes in the hub within Manchester that makes Manchester the second city of London.  Michael Taylor, founder of We Think More led the interview with Simon Jenkins and hosted the Q&A.

TiE VIP Lunch with Sir Simon Jenkins

TiE VIP Lunch with Sir Simon Jenkins

Michael then opens up the discussion and commences the Q&A segment of the event with Sir Simon.

Question #1 Andy Spinoza, MD at SKV Communications:
“If Manchester is so great, why are we so behind London in several ways? For example, earning power.”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] - There exists not only a gap between London and Manchester, but between London and any other city in the UK. This gap is huge. London is an extraordinary place to live and you feel the weight of the city’s money. It is unfair to compare Manchester to London. In fact, New York is the only city you can compare London to. Instead of setting comparisons, we should be providing a magnetic alternative outside of London and in my opinion, there is only room for one magnet; Manchester.

Question #2 Michael Taylor, Founder of We Think More:
“Was the BBC moving up north, the trigger in making Manchester the biggest city in the north?”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] -In my opinion, no, I don’t think so. I think the BBC move to Salford Quays was a pity. They simply took a lump of southerners and brought them up north, unwillingly.”

Question #3 Michael Taylor, Founder of We Think More:
“There is a potential change of government in a year’s time. Where does this leave the English identity?”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] -England will look very different after the referendum, whichever way it goes. I think that regional England will be more assertive and their anger of being starved all of the government’s money, will be more prominent. The government will spend unlimited amounts on London but not the rest of the country. This is hugely unfair and I think the referendum, in this respect, will make things a lot more interesting in England.

Question #4 - Vikas Shah, MD at Swiscot Group
“What is the Londoner’s opinion of Manchester?”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] -I don’t think they have one to be honest. That’s the London arrogance, it doesn’t really care about anyone else. Personally, I think that Birmingham used to be the second city but now Manchester is, but either way, Londoners don’t care. There is no malice in this, I might add. However, they just don’t really care. It’s not something that comes up in conversation and affects their day-to-day lives.

Question #5 - P K Vaish, MD at Livelink
“Our problem is that our children are leaving Manchester after their schooling. Although they may come back up north to settle down, they move down for a career. How do we stop this move?”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] - Maybe offer more jobs. Offer the youth a reason to stay in this city. Increase the appeal of the city”. 

Whilst discussing this notion that the future of Manchester are moving to London, Vikas Shah interjects that this is not necessarily the case:

“Many young entrepreneurs are ejected from the capital, like London refugees and are thus migrating to Manchester, to start their businesses here.  Manchester is recognised globally as a key city for entrepreneurship and growth.  When startup businesses are choosing where to ‘house’ their business, they have to take into account factors ranging from the costs of capital, infrastructure, human resource, and more – but also the ecosystem in which they will be based.  In many of those categories, Manchester is in a leadership position and our experience has been that many startups are coming to Manchester from all over the UK and even internationally! It is up to us as a city, to retain this business.

Question #6 Michael Taylor, Founder of We Think More:
“What’s Boris Johnson like as a mayor?”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] -“He’s a class act. He’s a great speaker; funny and moving. If I was in Manchester, I would vote to have an elected mayor. It changes everything. Johnson changed everything for London. He, alongside Ken Livingstone, gave London a profile and also got a lot of money form the government. When you have a high profile civic leader, he or she has the clout that a party leader does not have. No leader of a party can yield that much power. Manchester needs a mayor to increase the power of the city politically and having Greater Manchester as an organization and more united, is the only way this is going to happen. The city needs to redraw local boundaries for political and therefore financial gain.

Question #7 Kevin Duffy, Partner at Baker Tilly:
“Would you move the political base up to Manchester”

[Sir Simon Jenkins] -Why not? Why should London hog all of the country’s public administration. Although obviously, the logistics of moving courts for example, may be somewhat difficult. And let’s not forget the NHS. We moved the NHS to Leeds and that I what is now wrong with Leeds!”

Thoughts on Manchester

L-R: Vikas Shah, Sir Simon Jenkins, Michael Taylor, Kevin Duffy

L-R: Vikas Shah, Sir Simon Jenkins, Michael Taylor, Kevin Duffy

Tariq Marfani, MD at Tarameen Ltd
There’s a real disbelief of Manchester’s strength. The southerners expect Coronation Street and are in awe of our wealth and forward-thinking.”

Ashok Kallumpram, MD at Premier Textiles Ltd:
I don’t think we, as a city, should obsess about comparing ourselves to London. We should be obsessing about competing on a global level. We need to focus on competing with the world and don’t forget that we are known globally, whether it be for our music or our football, we are known.

Vikas Shah, MD at Swiscot Group:
City regions around the world get caught up in the obsession of ‘how do we generate our own silicon valley.’ the fact is, we can’t.  Silicon Valley is a very unique phenomenon and that’s great, and we should all do what we can to plug-in to that ecosystem, but as city regions our aim should be to leverage the assets we have to create real economic value.  Boston is a great analogy for Manchester in terms of infrastructure (quality of universities, access to capital, incumbent businesses) – yet Boston generates multi-billion dollar enterprises, and global high-growth businesses.  We need to learn from cities like this to understand what we’re doing wrong with our assets, and how we can sweat them more effectively.”

Jim Clarke, Co Founder and Ambassador at The Apprentice Academy Manchester:
Manchester needs to be more ballsy and stop complaining. We need to stop comparing ourselves to London and start creating our own destiny.”

In attendance:


Posted on May 23, 2014 in TiE UK North News

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