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From son of a raincoat salesman to worldwide renown – remembering Sir Howard Bernstein

Councillors today paid tribute to one of Manchester's most cherished sons, Sir Howard Bernstein
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Sir Howard Bernstein

Councillors paid tribute to one of Manchester’s most important sons as the town hall remembered Sir Howard Bernstein, the city’s former chief executive for 19 years.

Sir Howard, who was the chief executive of the city council from 1998 to 2017, passed away at the age of 71 on June 22. He is survived by his wife Vanessa and an extended family.

Sir Howard Bernstein

But he is also survived by the legacy he left the city, visible in its post-IRA bomb recovery. It’s also visible in the Commonwealth Games-inspired regeneration of east Manchester.

It’s visible in the city’s financial district, Spinningfields.

That’s according to Labour council leader Bev Craig, speaking at the first full council meeting since his death was announced on Wednesday (July 10).

She paid tribute to a man born in Cheetham Hill in 1953, whose parents got by trading off Manchester’s most abundant commodity: rain.

“I think Howard summed up the hope and the ambition that you can see in a city like Manchester,” Coun Craig told a packed council chamber.

A lad from Cheetham Hill

“Born in Cheetham Hill, went to school in Moss Side, to his parents Miriam and Maurice. His father was the son of Russian immigrants who used to sell raincoats, I think, above a laundrette.”

But he ‘went on to be somebody known across the world, renowned for the transformation of Manchester’, Coun Graig went on.

“I think it’s rare that you find someone in this day and age who joins the Town Hall at 18-years-old and worked up to being chief executive for 19 years.

“He was known for his powers of persuasion. As the story goes, he managed to get a Liverpool fan — an avid Liverpool fan — to sell land to Manchester City as part of the regeneration of east Manchester.

“I know he will be remembered for a number of things. Be it Hulme, be it Spinningfields, or what we see in-and-around east Manchester.

“We will seek to honour him in the right way and offer him a civic remembrance event that will happen later on in the year if it’s the family’s wishes.”

Lord Mayor Coun Paul Andrews

Lord Mayor Councillor Paul Andrews, Lib Dem leader Coun John Leech, and Green leader Coun Astrid Johnson all also paid tribute to Sir Howard.

A perfectly-observed minute’s silence followed.

Manchester also said goodbye to another chief executive at the meeting, as Joanne Roney prepares to take up the top job at Birmingham City Council in September, her hometown.

She announced the move early last month, and this was the last full council meeting before her departure.

Coun Craig also paid tribute to Ms Roney, with the pair working together closely since the former took the leader’s job in late 2021.

She said: ““She is leaving us for a tough job. I think you will do an excellent job there.

“If I reflect on what you have done here… be it on the city’s leadership throughout a tragic Arena attack, or be it around the transformation of children’s services, or be it around where we find ourselves with staff and organisational culture. There’s been significant change. It leaves us in really good shape.

“Having that tenacity and ambition for the city is something that’s made it truly great to work with you. When I look to the future, we have some exciting regeneration projects. I think you leave us in a really good place.”

You can read Manchester City Council’s tribute to Howard Bernstein by clicking here

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