The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Interview: Andy Burnham MP

After announcing his manifesto for Greater Manchester Mayor, Fuse TV and The Mancunion sat down with the Labour candidate to ask how his administration will impact students and graduates in Manchester

By and

Labour mayoral hopeful Andy Burnham has made various ambitious promises during his campaign to become Greater Manchester Mayor, in both the party’s selection process and the campaign proper.

In what is probably the most important UK election this year, much is at stake, including the first ever devolved Health powers to a city in this country.

The Burnham manifesto is light on promises explicitly aimed at university students — an understandable move at first glance, given that most students are not permanent residents and not registered to vote in Manchester — however his announcement speech contained a number of policies that will directly impact university students and graduates.

We took the opportunity to ask the bookies’ favourite for Metro mayor to explain how these will work.

The first is the graduate retention plan, a major part of housing policy — not specifically mentioned in the manifesto — but a promise form the speech that will be the most eye-catching for graduates.

“We want to retain more of the people in the city who study here. You know, we’re really lucky that so many people come from all over the UK to study in Manchester, indeed the world, and that brings a kind of talent and vibrancy to Manchester, but it’s been the case in the past that on graduation, some people may have tried to stay and then eventually drift away because maybe they can’t find the job that works for them.

“And the specifics that we will offer will be more access to rent-to-own housing, so give people a route to the housing ladder, or, even, start-up space in places like this [the Sharp Project].

“So we’re really serious we need a graduate retention plan for the city, which would be good for us but good for you too.”

Photo: Robert Cutts

Plans to encourage graduates to stay in Manchester were a major announcement of his speech, Photo: Robert Cutts @Flickr

Another area that Burnham has highlighted as part of his campaign is the high levels of pollution in the region, and how cycling networks, like the one that will soon be completed on Oxford Road, will be rolled out across the region.

“We need a dedicated high-quality cycling network all over Greater Manchester because people know us as the medals factory, you know the Velodrome and everything that came out of there. So we’re world class when it comes to elite cycling but not when it comes to cycling by the rest of the population. We want to put that right, and if you going to do something about air quality you have to get people out of their cars, don’t you?”

The bus companies that heavily populate Oxford Road don’t escape the focus of the Mayoral hopeful, who has also called to reform to that part of transport policy.

“Oxford Road, nose to tail, buses of varying standards, throwing out all kinds of pollution at times. The Vice-Chancellor told me recently that the record that had been spotted, I think, was about 34 buses continuously on Oxford Road.

“It’s like a free-for-all isn’t it? And you know, it’s the bus companies putting their own interests of everybody else, and it’s going to come to an end.”

Coming back to young people in Manchester, we asked why he decided to focus on these voters so heavily, given that they are less likely to be registered to vote.

“I’ve heard people at local level of politics and at national level say ‘oh don’t prioritise anything for young people, they don’t vote, just use all the money you’ve got to pay for things for older voters’. The problem with that is you end up with quite large amounts of alienation, but also you don’t build a prosperous society on that basis, do you?”

Photo: Pete Birkinshaw@flickr

Dealing with the air pollution on Oxford Road was also one of Burnham’s stated priorities. Photo: Pete Birkinshaw @Flickr

At this point, Josh — admitting that he himself did not vote in the 2015 election — asked what Burnham thought of alienation generally among young voters.

“Yeah it is [a shame] and I could see why you say that … I don’t think that political parties have been prioritising people in your age group, and I think it’s really damaging to the economy, but also to democracy and society if you adopt this kind of short-term approach where you just say ‘oh we’re just promising things to people who might vote for us’. You’ve got to do the right thing, if you do the right thing you should get the reward of doing the right thing.

“I’ve seen how the kind of cynical thinking that you get down there sometimes, and I’m not surprised why you felt as you did at that last election.”

Page nine of the manifesto contained a mention for the Reclaim the Night movement, which has a major presence in Manchester student activism. We asked what would be built upon to improve student safety in Fallowfield.

“Well we specifically mentioned [Reclaim the Night] because it’s a brilliant initiative, and you know we wanted to congratulate everybody who’d been a part of it. The first thing we’ve got to do is make sure there’s visible policing in communities like Fallowfield. You know, I think the front line of policing has suffered under government cuts, we need to stop that, and make sure there are police officers still out visible in the community.”

Burnham also revealed his own personal connection with the area and its problems.

“More broadly, in that community, I know Fallowfield quite well because my brother was a student and lived in Furness road actually, when I was in my twenties and he was studying there. And he got broken into on a regular basis, and indeed was held up at gunpoint once.”

Photo: Mikey@flickr

Furness Road in Fallowfield, Photo: Mikey @Flickr

Poor housing, also a major gripe of student life, was something the prospective mayor also highlighted as something that he will attempt to improve with the new powers.

“A simple message [for private landlords]: respect people here, or get out of Greater Manchester. That is going to be a pretty simple message, and we’re going to bring in a voluntary regulation scheme where we ask the good landlords to sign up to the standards we expect, and those that don’t will make themselves very obvious to us, and we will go after and try and compulsory purchase those who won’t play by the rules.”

We decided that the final question of the last of many interviews for the Leigh MP would be the question that Matt — our camera operator and a born-and-bred Warrington fan — was dying to ask. What was his prediction in the upcoming Leigh vs Warrington Super League match?

“Well it comes at an interesting time. I’m going to wind him [Matt] up, the camera’s going to start shaking with anger in a minute here! So we’re the new kids on the Super League block, [Warrington] are the power in the land, but, you know, Leigh are in better form actually going into the game. So I think you could see a pretty major upset. We’ve beaten St. Helens already, so we’re coming after the blue and yellows there tomorrow night!”

In the end it was the Leigh MP who will be the happier, as his team beat the Wire 22 points to 8. If his campaign goes nearly as well as the Centurions’ start to the season, then expectations will be high for his administration’s efforts to improve Manchester for its students and graduates.