International investors do not just want a return on their money, they want to make a difference as well, according to the chief executive of Manchester City Council.
Manchester is riding high after winning Chinese backing for its £800m Airport City project and striking a deal with Abu Dhabi United Group, the owner of Manchester City FC, to build new housing worth £1bn in the rundown area to the east of the city.
It is hoped that Yorkshire will be able to learn lessons from its cross-Pennine rival as the region is struggling to attract international investment in spite of multi-million pound marketing budgets.
Latest figures from acountancy firm EY show Yorkshire languishing at the bottom of the national league table for foreign direct investment.
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post, Sir Howard said there is “no easy answer” to winning global backing.
He said: “The important thing is not just to recognise that these are investment opportunities where they can make money, it is also how they are securing access to delivering their own objectives as well.
“Abu Dhabi are interested in regeneration. They are interested in communities. They are part of the community itself.
“The Chinese BCEG (Beijing Construction and Engineering Group) want to make money and want to establish European bases. We are creating for them the platform for that to happen.”
Sir Howard, CEO since 1998, said market dynamics in London and the South East are crowding out international investors, who cannot find attractive propositions at affordable prices, which is resulting in greater attention for Manchester and Leeds.
He said northern cities must bring forward compelling investment propositions that meet not only the financial needs of investors but also the requirements for growth as well.
Sir Howard added: “Many investors don’t just want to make money, they want to make a difference. That’s certainly been our experience. That’s why we work so hard in bringing forward those compelling investment propositions.”
He said Manchester and Leeds are working together very closely and he has an “excellent” working relationship with counterpart Tom Riordan, as well as with colleagues in Liverpool and Sheffield.
Sir Howard said: “We all recognise that while we have our own distinct economic geographies - we all have to work very hard to drive our business base and create opportunities for local employment - we are also interdependent, particularly on those things that impact our competitiveness.
“The most obvious one is transport and connectivity generally. The more connected Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield with Newcastle and elsewhere, the more we are able to support the productivity of our own labour markets and the competitiveness of the cities.”
Britain has been preoccuppied with London for too long, he added, and it is only relatively recently that northern cities have started to look at ways to collaborate more effectively.
He said greater connectivity between northern cities could help rebalance the UK economy.
Sir Howard added: “If you look at any other European example of strong national engines of growth outside the capital, you see connected cities which enjoy fast reliable transport systems, where people can access jobs and markets.
“We have reasonably okay local transport systems within economic geographies but what we haven’t got is strong inter-connected transport systems... to support growth and provide a complementary offer to London and the South East.”
He pointed out that the Government always manages to find money to invest in transport schemes for the capital.