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Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese tells Sebastian Shehadi about the threat posed by Brexit and why the city's tech skills and quality of life continue to pull investment.

Q: What are the greatest economic opportunities for Manchester right now?

A: If I had to pick one thing, it would be the progress we’ve made with devolution and the opportunity that devolution has for Manchester: to have greater control over our own future and for our citizens to have the prospect of a better future.

Q: What is attracting FDI to Manchester?

A: We have important sectors in Manchester based around science and technology, advanced materials, aspects of digital industries and health innovation. I think the most exciting thing is that we see local, national and international companies coming increasingly to Manchester, thereby creating the critical mass that makes the city an international player. If you look at commercial lettings in Manchester over the past 12 months, a third of them were to technology-based companies. 

There are more cranes over Manchester than other city in the UK outside London. It’s a city that’s thriving and dynamic. This is driven by the quality of research that we have in our universities, the connectivity we have as a city both internationally and nationally: Manchester Airport is important in this regard. Above all else, there’s a quality of life in the city – it’s a place where people want to live. Unlike most of England, which has an ageing population, we’re becoming ever more youthful.

Q: What challenges does Manchester face, and how are you overcoming that?

A: There are a number of challenges, such as ongoing austerity and the impact it has on people. I think the lack of government investment in housing is a real challenge for us. Notwithstanding that we’re ranked as having the third best transport infrastructure of any UK city, there are still some real challenges in making that work better and making sure we maximise the labour force that can access the opportunities that exist, not just in Manchester city centre, but in other job growth points in the city region.

Q: How do you think Brexit will affect Manchester?

A: Brexit is a threat; for those who argue it’s an opportunity, I’m waiting to see the opportunity. It is a real threat: we are an international city, our future is international. Our workforce comes from all over the world, so anything that puts up trade and travel borders is an obstacle. We will continue to promote ‘Manchester International’ and continue to build our relationships with cities around the world and continue to build a very strong message that, alongside our indigenous population, which comes from all over the world, we’re very welcoming of people with skills to our city.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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