For the first time in the country, two city-regions are set to be treated like government departments with their mayors given full control of their budgets.
It means Andy Burnham will be able to spend money according to his own priorities rather than having to bid for funding that comes with conditions.
The ‘trailblazer’ devolution deal – which will be a blueprint for other regions to follow – also gives local leaders new powers over transport, housing and skills. However, while the Chancellor was announcing the deal in his budget speech in Parliament on Wednesday (March 15), Mr Burnham was not even in the UK.
Joined by Manchester council leader Bev Craig, the Labour mayor was in the USA on a trade mission which included a trip to a music festival in Texas. Mr Burnham even made an appearance on a major American breakfast TV show.
The tour saw Greater Manchester’s leaders sign a trade deal with the state of North Carolina, announce a new global music conference in the city at South by Southwest festival in Austin launched by New Order and meet with a US banking giant in New York to discuss its Manchester office expansion plans. Speaking via video call after the devolution deal was announced, Mr Burnham said his presence in the US demonstrates the importance of his new powers.
“I think it really fits,” he said. “I consider this to be the best place to be in some ways because we’ve been given a status that other English city-regions don’t have.
“I’m literally about to go from this to a conference room to say, ‘we’ve today got a devolution deal from the government. Look at us. Come to us. Because you can work with us more than you can work anywhere else.’
“It’s actually the right place to be on a day like this. There’s no point of sitting and pontificating about it. I’m here to operationalise this deal now, today.
“I’m going to talk to investors. In fact, I was doing it yesterday.
“I spoke to a major global tech firm yesterday and said, ‘look, we can do more to solve your talent issues than anywhere else so work with us as a partner to fix technical education. Let’s create a cyber T-Level or a coding T-Level. And you can do this with us now because we’ve got this.’
“I know people will always question it, but we have to go abroad to promote this place. There’s no point of getting a devolution deal and then hiding that light under a bushel, is there?
“You get it and then you go out and say, ‘right, we’re going to do this with it. Come and work with us. Come and invest here.’
“I’m really glad with the way this trip’s going. To have New Order out with us in Austin when we’re announcing a new international music conference in Greater Manchester is pretty spectacular to be honest.”
The visit to North Carolina, which has a GDP of $550bn – roughly the same as Sweden – was coordinated by the UK Government Office in Raleigh, North Carolina, and supported by the two North Carolina chapters of the British-American Business Council – the largest transatlantic business network with more than 2,000 member companies based throughout North America and the UK, including many of the world’s largest multinational firms. It comes after the UK government signed a trade and economic agreement with North Carolina in July 2022 following a similar agreement with the state of Indiana.
The memorandum of understanding aims to streamline trade and investment between UK and North Carolinian businesses, and lay a framework for increased cooperation in sectors such as clean tech and energy infrastructure. Trade between the UK and North Carolina is worth around $2.5bn – roughly the same as the trade between Greater Manchester and the US as a whole.
US businesses have created thousands of jobs in Greater Manchester, among them North Carolina-based companies including digital studio Epic Games, manufacturer SPX Corporation, and life sciences firm d-Wise. Last year, North Carolina was named ‘America’s top state for business’ in a study for CNBC.
The Greater Manchester mayor and Manchester council leader travelled to North Carolina’s state capital Raleigh, where they met with the state’s governor Roy Cooper and signed a new partnership to enhance trade, promote economic development, increase investment and address climate change.
While at South by Southwest festival in Texas, the delegation also launched a new global music conference and festival hosted in Manchester. Beyond The Music, which was launched with a performance by New Order, promises to ‘unify the global music industry to deliver an international strategy for music’.
Coun Craig said: “Manchester is a world class city competing internationally to attract jobs, investment and other opportunities for our residents and to expand our business exports. The United States is one of our most significant trading partners and this trip was important to strengthen relationships, drive new investment and showcase the amazing things our city has to offer.
“This reflects our ambition for the city and its people. This kind of advocacy and relationship-building can only be achieved face to face which is why we’ve maximised our time with a packed schedule, visiting five cities in the space of seven days.
“In North Carolina, we visited Raleigh and Durham to enhance business co-operation around life sciences and met businesses in Charlotte, the second largest financial centre in the United States. Cementing these relationships, we signed an agreement for more trade with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
“In Austin, we presented Manchester to some of the key figures in the tech, music and creative world – showcasing our music, culture and film industries alongside a business focus to help grow our tech sector. We met with businesses looking to grow their footprint in Manchester, invest and create jobs.
“In New York, in the space of 36 hours we met with major US and UK employers, announcing more high quality jobs for Manchester and generating significant business interests. We met with Bank of New York Mellon who announced they will be expanding their operation in Manchester, making it one of only six global hubs.
“We met with the Mayor and First Deputy Mayor of New York and their team, to reinforce our long-standing relationship and talk about future opportunities. In the coming weeks there will be more significant announcements about the outcomes from this visit.
“I would like to thank our partners and sponsors who supported and indeed funded the trip including Manchester Airport Group, Singapore Airlines, Manchester United FC and the UK Government Department of Business and Trade.”