Bev Craig: Manchester’s new council leader in 25 years begins her job and sets out her priorities

Sir Richard Leese has stepped aside after a quarter of a century in charge at the town hall.

<p>Coun Bev Craig, who has been appointed leader of Manchester City Council</p>

Coun Bev Craig, who has been appointed leader of Manchester City Council

Manchester council has appointed a new leader for the first time in 25 years.

Sir Richard Leese has formally stood down after a quarter of a century at the helm of the town hall, making way for his deputy Bev Craig to take the reins.

The Burnage councillor said she was ‘honoured and humbled, excited and proud’ as she made her maiden speech as the council’s first female leader.

She said: “Our story of Manchester is no doubt one of success.

“A growing city that is bouncing back from the Covid pandemic stronger than most other places – not just in the UK, but beyond.

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“A city that attracts world class businesses and talent, that has a world-beating cultural offer.

“A diverse economy that leads the way in science, tech, digital and creative industries, that creates good jobs and invests for our future.

“A city where people want to live, to work and to visit. A city of ideas and certainly one of action.

“A city that we love isn’t just bricks and mortar, it’s about the people that build it and everything that we do in this city must be rooted in how we improve the lives of Mancunians. A city where everyone benefits from its successes.

“In this chamber we unashamedly want more – more of that success for our city and more of that success to share with our residents.

“And as a politician, I want to be judged by my deeds, not by my words.”

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What are her priorities?

The newly-appointed leader, who was brought up on a council estate near Belfast, promised to prioritise people, places and planet in her new position.

She spoke of her desire to create ‘thriving’ communities and neighbourhoods across Manchester – not just in the city centre – with cleaner and safer streets.

Bev Craig (centre left) in the chamber on Wednesday Credit: Manchester city council

There will be a ‘big focus’ on building more social and affordable housing, she said, recognising that the city has faced ‘unprecedented’ population growth.

And she told fellow councillors of the need to tackle the ‘imminent challenges’ of climate change which face the planet ‘locally, nationally and internationally’.

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The new council leader called on the government to listen and, ‘if they want to rescue their levelling up agenda’, invest in the ideas that the city has to offer.

Addressing the people of Manchester, she promised the local authority will listen, respond and deliver, urging everyone to help ‘build a better Manchester’.

She said: “I’m excited and I’m optimistic.

“We can achieve great things together for this city. The home of the industrial revolution will be home to many more groundbreaking moments in history.

“A city of ideas and a city of action. A city built on hope and ambition that does things differently and never loses sight of why we are here.

“A city that will be judged on our deeds, not on our words. And a city that will never let Manchester people down.”

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What has Sir Richard said?

Sir Richard Leese, who formally nominated his successor, said he was ‘proud’ that the council, which has never been led by a woman, will now ‘put that right’.

The outgoing leader was praised by Lord Mayor Tommy Judge for serving the city with ‘commitment, determination and distinction’ over the last 37 years.

Sir Richard Leese

Manchester Labour group secretary Pat Karney, one of the longest serving councillors in the city, said the change in leadership is ‘once-in-a-generation’.

Responding to reports of a ‘lack of solidarity’ in the Labour group, including the resignation of one councillor who blamed ‘bullying’ and a ‘toxic culture’ and the suspension of a senior executive member, he said ‘comradeship’ is strong.

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He said: “Manchester Labour group is determined to carry on its work for residents of this city. We have a very strong Labour group in Manchester.”