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New Year message from Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester

31/12/2017

In 2018, we will mark Manchester’s role in making history. 

It is 100 years since the Suffragettes secured women’s right to vote and 150 since the foundation of the Trades Union Congress. 

Both of these movements grew out of the streets of our city and went on to change the world. In this way, Manchester has always given people hope that things can be better than they are; that we don’t have to accept the status quo; that by standing together we can make things fairer for everyone.

Right now, our divided world needs a new dose of that radical Manchester spirit. So, as we prepare to celebrate these momentous events, we should resolve today to apply it afresh to the many challenges of our own difficult times.

2017 was a tough year for everyone, but traumatically so for those most affected by the attack on the Manchester Arena. My first resolution for 2018 is to continue to support them in any we can on the difficult road that lies ahead.

We must also continue to ask what more we can all do to make Greater Manchester safer going forward, as difficult as those questions may be. That is my second resolution.

In the aftermath of the attack, I established two reviews which will conclude their work later this year. When they publish their findings, I will ensure they are acted upon.

The first, under the leadership of Lord Bob Kerslake, is looking at the response of our emergency services in the hours and days after the attack. While we were all rightly proud of what they did, there will also undoubtedly be lessons that can be learned.

So we will take a hard look at ourselves and ask what we can do better. But, in return, we expect the Government to do the same. Words of praise for our emergency services at the time of tragedy ring hollow when they are followed, as they were, by yet more funding cuts. Those cuts have gone too far and are putting lives at risk. In 2018, we will press the Government to face up to this fact.

The truth is that the Police and the security services cannot keep all people who may pose a risk under constant surveillance. We need to consider other ways of tackling the growing extremism which is the scourge of our times. That is the task we have given to our Commission on Tackling Violent Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion, headed by Cllr Rishi Shori and Cllr Jean Stretton.

Some like to talk about violent extremism as if it is the sole preserve of one community. The reality is it is on the rise in all communities. We are living through turbulent and polarised times. Extremists of all kinds are seeking to turn people against each other, creating of climate of hate and a cycle of violence. Social media gives them an instant megaphone and we have a President in the Oval Office who is acting as the agitator-in-chief.

This is the grim reality of our febrile world as we enter 2018. In these circumstances, all families and all communities will have to be more vigilant and more prepared to report extreme violent behaviour or views. I hope the Commission will provide us with some new thinking on how we help them to do that and develop our own distinctive approach to this most difficult issue of our times.

If anywhere can do it, Greater Manchester can. Our unified response to tragedy last year made us a beacon of hope to many around the world. So, in 2018, let’s keep that spirit building and apply it to the other pressing social challenges we face.

This brings me to my third resolution: to keep homelessness high on the agenda.

In 2017, the world finally woke up to the humanitarian crisis unfolding on our streets. In 2018, people will rightly want to see urgent and tangible action to improve the situation. 

I am confident that the plans we have developed in Greater Manchester, and the strong partnership between public, private and voluntary sectors, will continue to deliver real results. But I will monitor progress closely, as well as continuing to donate monthly to the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund, as we work towards our goal of ending rough-sleeping here by 2020. 

As well as tackling the immediate challenge, my hope is that 2018 will see the start of a more honest debate about the cause of the growing inequality now increasingly evident all around us. 

The truth is that rough-sleeping is the most visible symbol of a modern world that has become infected by an epidemic of insecurity. For every person on our streets, there are thousands more just one piece of bad luck away from being in the same position. Too many are living in fear of being evicted by unscrupulous landlords because they have no way of knowing how much they will earn from one week to the next.

The time has come for a major reassessment of the way things are.

We need a new approach to housing policy, with an emphasis on building many more homes for social rent. And we need a new conversation about the nature of modern work and a set of basic standards that should apply to everyone through an Employment Charter. This year, Greater Manchester will seek to make progress on both fronts.

We also urgently need to make progress on another: transport. 

My fourth resolution for 2018 is to initiate a major overhaul of our transport system. The increasing level of congestion on our roads reflects the fact that public transport is simply not good enough. So I will start by making use of new powers to change the way our buses work as well making the case for new investment in our infrastructure. This year, we need a clear Government commitment, and timetable, to build a modern railway across the North of England with a remodelled Piccadilly Station at its heart.

And that brings me to my fifth and final resolution: to continue to build the voice of the North and make the case for more devolution.

If we are to rise to the challenges of Brexit, we need to develop a world-class digital and transport infrastructure and have the freedom to innovate on policies which Westminster has traditionally neglected, such as technical education. 

While we live in difficult times, I start this year with great pride in our radical past and great optimism for what we are about to achieve.

We are breaking free of the negative energy engulfing the national political debate and making Greater Manchester the place people are talking about, where positive change is happening. 

Greater Manchester has changed the course of history before and, in this year of all years, we should all resolve to make sure it does so again.

A happy New Year to you all.

Andy Burnham