Mancunians are following city politics more closely than ever before, thanks to Mayor Andy Burnham’s dispute with Central Government before Christmas.
With the Manchester Mayoral Election happening in three months’ time, tackling the issues which affect Mancunians throughout the region is more important than ever.
MM spoke to Burnham’s primary opponent, Conservative candidate Laura Evans, who believes what the region really needs is somebody to work with the government, not against them.
She said: “Isn’t it time to stop the fighting and work with the area? Of course, you’re never going to get everything on your wish-list.
“I only ever see a bashing of the government at every opportunity, deliberately making it more complicated than it needs to be. It’s time for that to go.
“I will be very keen to work with the government, and I’ve put that in all my messaging.”
Evans has previously worked as a councillor in Trafford and is very forthright in saying what she thinks Greater Manchester needs.
“I think we have a beautiful city, we’re terribly well located,” said Evans, “We have huge amounts of opportunities to be a global city. We have an amazing workforce, we just need to make sure the opportunities are there to get them into good jobs.”
Given the landslide victory enjoyed by the Conservatives in 2019 – in which they won 9 seats in Greater Manchester – it’s easy to understand why Evans would sense people want change.
“People don’t like feeling like everything is city centre focused. When I go out to other areas, they haven’t really felt connected to the whole of Greater Manchester.
“We had an election where a lot of MPs got elected in areas where there’d never been Conservative MPs. They were banking on that to give them change.
“People in Middleton, Heywood, Bury and Leigh wanted good opportunities and better education.”
Evans is dismissive of the idea that the 2019 election results are indicative of the public mood surrounding Brexit: “I think fundamentally people wanted a change.
“A lot of the councils have been Labour forever, and they haven’t seen the benefits of that. It felt draconian. Why wouldn’t you want that change?”
A conversation about politics in Manchester wouldn’t be complete if the issue of homelessness wasn’t addressed.
Andy Burnham certainly made it a key point of his campaign, pledging to end homelessness by 2020 (In November 2019, he acknowledged he’d fallen short of this target).
Greater Manchester has around 5,564 homeless people – although this figure does not account for those who are ‘sofa-surfing’.
Burnham’s ‘A Bed Every Night’ scheme sought to give vulnerable people a place to sleep, but Evans feels that it isn’t going far enough to tackle the problem of homelessness: “I don’t think it’s good enough to say a bed for a night. I want them to have a change of life.”
Evans points to the ‘revolving door’ system in prisons as a factor that needs focus when addressing the problem.
“Some people come out of prison and end up on the streets. What are we doing to get those people on a new journey? A bed won’t solve that problem.
“I know it was Andy Burnham’s big flagship policy, but we need to get the root of the problem.”
She points towards people in prison learning new skills, as a way of giving them a fresh start, whether it be through courses in brick-laying, coding, joinery or administration.
“The biggest thing you need to give people is hope and opportunity.”
Evans also gives praise to the government’s pledge to deliver 3,300 homes for rough sleepers, but she adds: “I want them to live with a job, a purpose, a point. We need to make sure they’re upskilled.”
“I personally would make it my job to know everything about that person on the street. I would want a CV delivered for them, I’d want to know what skills they have and what skills they need. We need to know where we can take them on that journey.”
As Mayor, Evans would want to see a more personalised approach tailored to the varying circumstances of rough sleepers: “You can’t just join them all together, you need to find out what each one needs.
“Are we checking that their feet are good, that their teeth are in good health? We can’t just give them a bed for a night. It’s got to be a much bigger, broader approach.”
Evans cites herself as a big believer in the ‘Hand Up, Not Handouts’ philosophy of Mustard Tree, the Manchester based homeless charity.
“Businesses have a responsibility to help out too, as do the councils. We all have a responsibility to help make the change, so I want to deliver on that.”
When asked why Mancunians looking for a change should look towards Evans and conservatism for answers, she brings the focus onto her earlier life: “I grew up deaf and with a speech impediment, not an easy childhood.
“But I believe opportunity is there for the taking.”
She recalled how she worked on estates with high crime, where local kids had no interest in joining the Scouts or the Brownies. But when offered another alternative, they were able to turn their lives around.
“They did really well with boxing. Boxing is quite an art form, and if you have somebody delivering the message in a right way – the basics of good behaviour – you can really see huge amounts of change.
“The big narrative here is that we’re going out to listen to people and we will deliver on what they want, rather than what we think they want.”
The Manchester Mayoral election will take place on May 6th 2021.