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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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.

Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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