What problems will Andy Burnham face as Greater Manchester mayor?

The Manc of the hour. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

Andy Burnham has made a formidable comeback. He had become a bit of a running joke among the chattering classes after several weird gaffes (think ‘posh coffee’ and so-called ‘barista visas’). But, while his election as Greater Manchester Metro Mayor in May surprised nobody, his results were incredibly impressive, defying what was a grim night nationally for Labour candidates.  

And within just weeks he was forced to respond to the city’s darkest hour – the bombing at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and scarring the city. Burnham led from the front, giving voice to the atmosphere of tolerance and strength in diversity that settled on the city in the aftermath.

Andy Burnham is now, rightly, popular. But if he’s to keep that up, he’ll need to tackle Manchester’s big problems, and deliver strong results.

So: what problems is the region actually facing, then?

For the most part, it’s the economy, stupid. The following graphs compare figures for Greater Manchester (in green) to the national average (in grey).

Image: Centre for Cities.

The employment rate is still lower than the rest of the country, on average, and that gap shows worrying signs of opening up further.

And while the total number of jobs has been increasing in line with the rest of the country since 2010, that growth is slowing.

Image: Centre for Cities.

The rest of the country is sailing away while Greater Manchester’s jobs total is starting to stagnate.

As for the people who fill those jobs, their earnings are still a fairly long way behind the rest of the country.

Image: Centre for Cities.

Despite the rate of increase being fairly similar to earnings across the country – bar a big dip in 2011 – a Mancunian in 2016 earned £479 a week on average, way below the national average of £525.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Image: Centre for Cities.

The skills gap between Manchester and the rest of the country is closing, as the proportion of people with no qualifications is falling faster in Manchester than it is elsewhere.

Image: Centre for Cities

And while schools are still slightly underperforming in comparison to the rest of the country – the Progress 8 score is a measure of pupils’ success, just go with it – that gap isn’t as large as in other metro regions.

Image: Centre for Cities

There are also more new apprenticeships in Manchester, while the rate of change has been largely in line with the national average. 

And though earnings are lower than elsewhere in the country, housing costs are also lower:

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities

Despite increasing reports of big new-build projects in Manchester being snapped up by foreign investors to sit empty, the housing affordability ratio shows Manchester is still in a better place than the rest of the country. Average house prices in Manchester in 2016 were around 6.9 times average earnings, while the rest of the country struggled up at 10.1 times average earnings.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

But that being said, the total number of dwellings has been growing at a slower rate than the rest of the country since 2009, so it is at least possible that affordability may start to drip away.

On to the good stuff. We all know you’re really here for the transport action, and that’s where Andy Burnham has a very big problem – and a very nice reward.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

The bad news is that bus journeys have crashed out in Manchester, even faster than the general trend against bus travel across the country. Whether its reassigning franchises, clambering towards nationalisation, or whatever other solution he fancies, Burnham will need to do something about this.

And the good news?

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities

Light rail journeys are soaring in Manchester, thanks to the city’s beautiful trams, and have been growing at a far faster rate than the rest of the country since 2011. More tram action, please.

And that’s about the size of it. Good luck, Andy – and good luck avoiding the urge to procrastinate on the fun new metro mayor tools over at the Centre for Cities. 

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.