Let me tell you about Stockport. Our town is seven miles from Manchester. Every train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly stops here and crosses our iconic viaduct, the largest standing brick structure in Europe. We’re a proud town, but also a highly economically diverse place with very different life expectancy if you live in estates like Brinnington, or Bridgehall where I live, or in one of the more prosperous suburbs to the south like Bramhall.
We are also a minority Labour administration. Since I was elected leader of our group, and of the council, and took my seat in Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s cabinet, I’ve learnt the importance of leadership by partnership. We must negotiate, work with other stakeholders in our town, tell our story and build our case meticulously. We’ve had challenges along the way. Our Lib Dem and Conservative colleagues wouldn’t support the Greater Manchester plan for jobs and homes, and so Stockport must now produce our own plan. Yet, we’ve secured the real living wage for our care staff – direct and contracted.
Being a minority has not dented our commitment to work hard as an equal partner in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, playing our part, contributing ideas and leading on strategic policy themes as I do across business, the economy and international relations.
As everyone involved in Labour politics knows, at the root of a better society is a stronger, fairer economy. We’ve developed an economic vision for Stockport by working with an organisation called the Stockport Economic Alliance, made up of employers in the private, public and third sectors, large corporates, as well as start-ups and scale-ups. Along the way, there’s started to be a real buzz about Stockport. You might even have heard Burnham use my phrase – Stockport is Brooklyn to Manchester’s Manhattan.
Our election campaign this May sees a third of councillors up for election. Next year is ‘all-outs’ on some new boundaries. We’d love to welcome Labour colleagues to Stockport to show what we’ve achieved in power and see what can be learned about what Labour governance can mean across our country.
We are reminded of the importance of electing a Labour government every single day. The casework of our incredible Labour group on the council reflects the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, cuts to policing and the demands on our public services, especially in health and social care. We must be leaders in our local communities, seek out support for vulnerable people, direct them towards assistance and use what resources we have as a local authority, aligned with assets in our own local community from a committed third sector.
Many of our electoral contests at a ward level are fought tactically, but as the leadership of the council, we must approach power strategically. I keep repeating it, but what drives me is my ambition for Stockport, to take a broader set of individual challenges and see if we can find the solution by addressing them all together.
Let me give you an example of a series of multiple challenges. Town centres like ours are changing, every Labour activist knows this. In the last few years, Stockport has lost large retail stores through no local fault of our own. At the same time, there is a shortage of housing of all shapes and sizes. We therefore have to think long term about health provision across Stockport and in neighbouring areas at a time when our local hospital Stepping Hill needs modernising.
Now, look at how we’re addressing that. Together with our partners in the local NHS, we’ve submitted an ambitious plan to build a new hospital in the centre of Stockport. This will be located next to a new transport interchange, close to where our mayoral development corporation is transforming derelict mill buildings, and form part of a wholly different, new independent retail and leisure offer in our heritage-rich Underbanks and Marketplace, which sits in proximity to more new housing in the centre.
All of this requires ambition and bringing a wide range of stakeholders with us. The reviews we’ve been getting are great – in The Sunday Times and CN Traveller – while one influencer calls Stockport “The New Berlin”. But this hasn’t happened by accident. This has been the result of political will and sticking to a vision.
We’re realistic about the work we need to do this time to hold our own positions, to campaign on the local issues but also be immensely proud of what we have in store. We’d love to take people from the Labour family around our town and show you what we’ve done. Many of you will have seen our town from the amazing vantage point of our incredible viaduct. Trust me, it’s even better at ground level.