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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

Mayor Paul Dennett shares the ‘Salford Way’ of city transformation

Updated: Feb 15

Our February guest is Paul Dennett, Directly Elected Mayor of Salford City Council and Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester (GMCA). During the episode our discussions cover key issues at the forefront of LED and placemaking in the UK – political reform, devolution, regeneration, local authority financing, among others. It is a privilege to get into the details of what Paul calls ‘The Salford Way’ from one of its principal role players. There is much to take away from these more detailed dives into place, and we are keen to hear whether LEDC listeners would like more episodes of this character.

Media City skyline, Salford, Greater Manchester
Media City, Salford

Salford’s profile has been boosted by the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays – this and other developments draw on the city’s pioneering cultural and industrial heritage

Salford illustrates the importance of major anchor investments in stimulating change. The Millennium Lowry project preceded, and arguably made possible, the £224m BBC relocation from London in the early 2010s and the wider Media City development. But Salford’s historic traditions of radical change are important too. From the inland docks and canals anchoring the Industrial Revolution, to community-facing public services (Salford had the first public park and public lending libraries in England), Salford’s cultural DNA is important. Similarly, the move to a directly elected mayor, chosen by referendum and against Labour Party wishes at the time, shows that Salford’s journey is much more than a one-trick BBC transformation.

What makes the directly-elected mayor (DEM) model successful in both Salford and Greater Manchester?

The Directly Elected Mayor has democratic credentials that cannot be achieved with Council (or indeed Combined Authority) leaders chosen as the outcome of political group factionalism. But the Salford and GM models work well because both mayors are clear about their respective responsibilities and mandates (to avoid duplication). Both emphasise the ‘soft’ power of the office, convening a Cabinet team, championing the narrative of the whole area, and working in partnership with key role players and institutions – including national government where possible. There will be risks of DEM models if the office is captured by individuals unable to bring this type of approach to the table.

What has enabled Greater Manchester to be consistently at the forefront of devolution in England?

GM has benefitted from political stability and longevity of key role players, shared values and beliefs (in Paul’s terms rooted in socialism), and  the willingness to collaborate, amplify and add recognisable value at the city region level. A good example of amplification is Mayor Burnham’s passionate commitment to housing and homelessness which has moved national dials in this area. Added value examples include the GM strategy and spatial plan for the city region, and championing key issues like reform of the land value capture system and CPOs.

How does Salford play distinctive and relevant roles in the GM and wider LA families?

‘The Salford Way’ is offered as a coherent ‘sensible socialism’ agenda for Local Authority leadership and public service management going forward.

The ‘Salford £’, the City Mayor’s Employment Charter, promoting Real Living Wage accreditation across the city, Social Value requirements of developers, Anti-poverty and Inclusion Strategies, democratising the public realm, rebuilding council housing, using land and property strategically, supporting local community and voluntary sectors, and anchor institution collaboration are key dimensions of the approach. And externally, Salford currently provides the Key Cities Group Secretariat – championing the roles of major urban areas outside and alonside the Core Cities.

What does Salford want and need from central government to deliver future sustainable prosperity?

The next national government should be more enabling of and devolving to city regions. It should provide National Policy Statements (like NPPFs) that recognise and are permissive of differentiated local and regional solutions to major challenges. It needs to find ways to put the LA financial system on a viable, sustainable basis whilst recognising territorial equalisation and rebalancing is required.

Concluding remarks

Although clearly rooted in GM and its Labour Party traditions, there is a lot in the discussion with Paul that has wider relevance. A must-listen episode for those embroiled in LA and CA governance reforms, regeneration,  and place reinvention especially in our towns and cities.


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