The Manchester Mayoral Election is just over three months away, and the candidates looking to take the reins from Andy Burnham are already making their case to voters, in any way they can.
Simon Lepori, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has previously worked in healthcare before going on to work in politics.
He spoke to Mancunian Matters about what he hopes to achieve if elected Mayor of Greater Manchester, where he thinks Andy Burnham has fallen short, and why he’s a Liberal Democrat.
Mr Lepori’s flagship policies are based around public transport, policing, healthcare and housing.
He has much to say about each subject – both in how he wants to improve things, and in how he feels the Labour Party have let Greater Manchester down.
Mr Lepori is critical of the public transport system in Greater Manchester: “Our transport system is chugging along. It’s just not working.”
Referencing the zoning system under which the Metrolink currently operates, Mr Lepori advocates that the buses and trains within the region also go under a zoning system.
He believes that by standardizing the prices, it would encourage more Mancunians to make use of public transport.
On healthcare, Mr Lepori is empathetic to the frustrations of those working in the industry, having worked there for years: “Greater Manchester should have a unified approach.
“We should have a seamless system, where it’s in through the front door of a hospital, out of the hospital into social care, and out of social care if possible.
“Public health care is chronically underfunded. That’s why we’ve got the obesity crisis, and the diabetes crisis.”
Mr Lepori is particularly critical of the health disparities that exist within the Greater Manchester region, pointing to the fact that people in Altrincham on average lived ten years longer than those in Rochdale (Research undertaken by the University of Manchester in 2016 found men in Rochdale had a average life expectancy of 66, compared to 75 in Altrincham).
“I think in a way, Andy Burnham has delegated a lot of responsibility. You’ll find that a lot with Andy.
“Unless it’s a good news story, or something that he can champion, he doesn’t want to face the problems that we have in the city region.”
Housing is another area in which he feels the Mayor has ‘delegated’ responsibility.
He points to the rising prices of housing in the city centre, and the fact £700 a month is now considered ‘reasonable’ rent.
“These apartments are for single people. There’s been no thought given to families living in the city centre.”
Housing costs are part of the wider issue of income disparity, which Mr Lepori addresses, pointing to the differences in income and opportunity between the southern regions and the northern regions, with the former coming out having an upper hand.
He even feels that this played a part in the Brexit referendum, where the northern regions of Greater Manchester opted to vote Leave, out of a feeling of being ‘left behind’ and feeling ‘economically stagnant’.
Mr Lepori himself grew up in somewhat difficult circumstances, as his mother raised him by herself: “She was stigmatised for that in the 1980s.
“But she had a job, she worked all the hours, and I had the best start in life I could.”
It’s this lived experience which helps him look with compassion towards those who have had few opportunities early in life.
He believes society should step in to provide for young people when their families aren’t able to do so, in a bid to reduce youth criminality and anti-social behaviour.
“In the 287 wards of Greater Manchester, why don’t they all have a named nurse? A named social worker? Why don’t they all have a team of people who can work together for the betterment of that area?”
The incumbent Mayor garnered a lot of media attention for his stand-off against the central government back in October.
But this is something that Mr Lepori believes was an example of ‘show-boating’: “He could have really stood up for all of the ten boroughs.
“Instead it became something of a ‘Aren’t Westminster being horrible’ moment.”
It’s this and other examples of Labour’s shortcomings in Greater Manchester – the Greater Manchester police failing to record 80,000 crimes, Trafford Council’s high levels of debt – which Mr Lepori puts forward to his case to become the next Mayor of Greater Manchester.
“We’re standing up to them in Stockport, in Rochdale, in Oldham, in Bolton. They’re disgraceful, as a party. They don’t care about the people, they care about power and what they can get out of it.
“Whereas, the Liberal Democrats actually get involved because they care about the communities, they want Greater Manchester to flourish.”
On the question of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat, Mr Lepori said: “We believe in individual rights as well as group rights. Individual responsibility as well as group responsibility.
“That goes to the core of our values. We want to free people to achieve for themselves. People don’t want handouts, they want handups.
“Labour’s forgotten that. We want to free people from low-income wages.”