From left to right, Andy Burnham and Andy Street From left to right, Andy Burnham and Andy Street

Andy Burnham is the new mayor of Manchester, Andy Street the mayor of the West Midlands – one of the new mayors says entrepreneurs are heroes, the other has worked very closely with them, can they make a difference?

So, Burnham, the man who ran against Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour Party, is the new Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Street, former boss at John Lewis, is the mayor of West Midlands.

When he was running for leadership of the Labour Party, Andy Burnham paid a visit to Ernst and Young, where he revealed his admiration for entrepreneurs.

“Far too rarely over the last few years” he said “has Labour spoken up in praise of the everyday heroes of our society. The small businessman or woman; the sole trader; the innovator, the inventor, the entrepreneur. The small businesses that become big businesses. The people with the creative spark to think of a new idea and the get-up-and-go to make it work. Who often have to fight against the odds to succeed, but put in the hours, the sweat and the hard graft to do it. So, I want this message to go out loud and clear today: in a Labour Party I lead, they will be as much our heroes as the nurse or the teacher.”

So maybe, as mayor of Manchester, entrepreneurs will he hailed as heroes, to sit alongside Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton in the pantheon of the great and good in the city.

But then there is this thing called technology. Mr Burnham may admire the rise of small businessmen or women, but what about digital tech?

According to the latest Tech Nation Report, Manchester has:

  • 62,653 digital jobs
  • the digital tech sector has a turnover of £2.9 billion
  • there have been 898 start-up births in the last year
  • and the average advertised salary of the worker in the digital sector is £47,349
According to Bullhound:
  • 28 per cent of the 50 fastest growing digital tech companies in the north are located in Manchester.
It boasts MediaCityUK, the Manchester Science Partnerships’ Central Campus, and dynamic healthtech, biotech, ICT, digital and creative sectors – all provide testament to Manchester’s digital importance.

Manchester is rated in the top 20 in the European Digital index.

It is good that Mr Burnham thinks entrepreneurs are heroes – his real challenge in Manchester is not to mess -up, this is a city, where graphene was first isolated, with great ambitions – to contend for the position of one of Europe’s top five digital entrepreneurial cities – under Burnham, can it get close?

As for the West Midlands, Andy Street, made it to the exalted rank of managing director of John Lewis. In this role, he earned around half a million pounds a year, by the standards of his contemporaries, people who ran far less successful companies, that was chicken-feed. There are those who say that the John Lewis approach needs to be applied across the board – certainly the partnership model is a hit with many politicians.

At John Lewis, Street was also a great advocate of innovation. As a key note speaker at the West Midlands Venturefest conference, he said: “John Lewis was founded by an entrepreneur with a visionary idea for a better way of doing business, and that innovative spirit still drives the business today. In a competitive world, innovation has become the marker of the truly successful business, and harnessing this innovation is key for business leaders.”

But what difference can the Conservative Mayor of West Midlands make? His job – or part of it anyway, is to sell the region on the world stage.

According to the Tech Nation Report there are

  • 36,802 digital jobs in Birmingham
  • the average advertised digital salary is £43,718
  • there were 557 digital start-ups born in the last year
  • and the tech sector is growing – rapidly
The Birmingham cluster, said the report, is bolstered by 18 universities, all within an hour’s drive of the city, and more and more graduates are staying in the area. Local networks include Silicon Canal and Innovation Birmingham, Finance Birmingham.

Assay Studios opened in the city in 2016 and it is home to Deliveroo, and John Lewis’s new Tech Hub for Innovation. Then there is Alpha Works, a collaborative space aimed at start-ups, will open its doors later this year.

Both Greater Manchester and Birmingham are going to form part of the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards this year, events to be held in both cities that will celebrate the best of each city. If you wish to be considered for the awards, you can enter.

Entrepreneurs are becoming ever more important to the economy and for Messrs Burnham and Street, the opportunity to take Manchester and the West Midlands and catapult them to the next level, can be grabbed, and if they can do it, their political careers will ‘be done no harm’.