In an exclusive interview with Manchester Media Group (MMG) on Thursday, September 29, Andy Burnham confirmed he will be seeking a third term as Mayor of Greater Manchester.
When asked about his plans for the future, the incumbent Mayor revealed he will be seeking re-election, commenting “well a third term is what I’m getting ready for”.
Speaking to MMG in the first instalment of their brand new series, Under the Spotlight, the Labour Mayor stated he had “unfinished business” in Greater Manchester. Burnham spoke at length about his plans for improving student life in the city, discussing everything from spiking to housing and his flagship transport policy, the Bee Network.
An increasingly popular figure amongst Greater Manchester’s population, Burnham appeared subtly aware of his reputation throughout the city. He won a landslide second-term in 2021, gaining 67% of the vote, and has been suggested as a future leader of the Labour Party, despite consistently rejecting these calls.
We begin by asking him about transport, his second term’s focus following an emphasis on eradicating homelessness in Greater Manchester, so far unsuccessfully, during his first.
Following the introduction of a universal cap on all bus fares across the region, earlier this month, the Greater Manchester Student Assembly (GMSA) wrote a letter to Burnham petitioning for an additional £1.50 cap on all student fares. The Mayor promised to look at the letter and stated he was open to the idea, highlighting the need to analyse the data from the new bus fares (set to be released next month) before he could commit to any such policy.
However, Burnham stressed he wants to make Manchester many people’s first choice of city, saying “I want [to show] people who come here to study … that we thank you for that and I want to make life easier for you while you’re here”. He added that he’s currently looking into a possible student offer on the Bee Bikes, demonstrating his awareness of the lacklustre transport options for students in Greater Manchester.
When questioned on the lack of student inclusion in the Bee Network plans, again, Burnham seemed aware of the feelings of the student community on the issue. Despite a cagey response, the Mayor recognised “the need to improve transport in this area around the university but also in the areas where students live”, adding he’ll hopefully be able to discuss more on the issue soon.
The next topic was the on-going Spiking epidemic and the frustrations expressed by student bars, like Fallowfield establishment 256, over Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) lack of engagement on providing security in student areas.
Exhibiting a level of humility rarely seen in politicians these days, Burnham labelled the revelations “disappointing” and pledged to look into the case, saying, “if something went wrong there, then that’s something I would apologise for”.
After being questioned over the lack of night-time transport in student areas like Fallowfield, Burnham comfortably returned to his flagship bus policy, clearly a source of pride, placing the blame solely at the feet of the private operators.
“The problem with the buses at the moment is that we don’t control the buses so [the bus companies] can decide what services they run; and that’s the big reason why buses here need to change”.
“I feel like it’s unfinished business.”
“Anyone who arrives at the University now, in their first year, will be here while the whole of our city becomes regulated”, so, “the system will dramatically change over the next three years, and then we will be able to mandate when the buses run”.
Touching on the question’s safety angle, the Mayor reiterated plans announced earlier this month that see GMP treat transport as “the 11th district of Greater Manchester”, committing to “more proactive policing of the transport system at all hours of the day”.
At times frustrating, although evidently applicable to many policy issues, Burnham’s buses and Bee Network are seemingly his stock answer for multiple questions. This time, when asked about the cost-of-living crisis, Burnham again pointed to the bus fare cap alongside mentioning the three-year freeze on tram fares.
This is understandable as, after all, affordable transport will be integral to helping Manchester’s citizens through the crisis. In 2019/20, approximately 178 million journeys were made on buses in Greater Manchester, with a further 44 million journeys made via Metrolink, demonstrating the huge need for functioning transport infrastructure.
Furthermore, bringing buses back under public ownership and creating an integrated transport system is clearly Burnham’s biggest political victory since he was declared the ‘King of the North’ in November 2020 after standing up to Westminster’s imposition of Covid restrictions without financial aid. Thus, as a Mayor apparently seeking re-election, it is unsurprising Burnham will reinforce his popular policies on the media rounds.
Responding to a question on the student housing crisis, Burnham said Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) was “definitely” open to working with the university to ensure no student goes without a home. Commenting that “some of [the housing crisis] is structural but some of it is pandemic related”, he expressed optimism that the issue could be solved.
“I absolutely will sit down with the vice-chancellors and see if we can work out a more structured plan to make sure we’ve got accommodation coming through”.
When pushed on what GMCA could do, Burnham brought up the Good Landlord Charter, a scheme which aims to put pressure on landlords to abide by housing regulations whilst pledging stronger enforcement strategies to those who lease substandard properties. He claims he would be “really keen” to “prioritise” student areas like Fallowfield, Withington, and Rusholme “to see if [GMCA] can improve housing standards”.
As the 10 minute interview comes to a close, we ask Burnham one final question: After his second term as Mayor finishes, what’s next for him? His answer is both unexpected and unsurprising.
“Well a third term is what I’m getting ready for”, he said. “I think, for me anyway, I feel like it’s unfinished business”.
Explaining his reasoning, Burnham says that, after a first term focused on homelessness and a second on transport, he would base a prospective third term around completing the Bee Network by integrating trains into the system to “really build out the London style transport system”.
“I’m really excited about the way the city’s developing, to be honest. For anyone who’s come here new, I’m not going to claim it’s all perfect, we’re not the finished article, we’re not London; but what we are doing here is steadily improving all of the time”.
Speaking with an understated subtlety, Burnham’s apparent announcement of a third term, whilst unsurprising, certainly diverges from the path back into national politics many speculated about since his now iconic ‘King of the North’ (face jacket) press conference in November 2020.
“I enjoy this job much more than I ever enjoyed Westminster, so, as I keep saying – [and] no one believes me in the media – but I’m happy doing what I’m doing”, he commented.
Detailing his “unfinished business”, he says “we have a goal of a net-zero city region by 2038, and alongside improving transport, we want to build more zero-carbon homes for social rent which will be prioritised for young people [as well as] decarbonising our energy system”. He describes this as “a moment of real change and real opportunity”.
Whilst clearly not an official announcement, his honesty is admirable. Throughout his tenure as Mayor, his ability to engage with both the press and public in a manner that plays down to the people instead of up to the cameras has won the respect and admiration of a significant chunk of the electorate. Despite his seeming lack of appetite for the top job, and clear support for Keir Starmer, one wonders what a Burnham premiership may look like.
His reputation in Greater Manchester is clear – he’s a Mayor who’s respected by the people and has a distinct love for his city. A straight-talker in an era of dishonesty and deceit, Burnham may not want to return to front-line politics, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating as to what such a return may look like.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.