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Leadership Lucky Draw: Bev Craig, Manchester City Council

February 22, 2024  

Bev Craig is the leader of Manchester City Council. She’s the first woman to lead the city of 600,000, which she is adament is the “best in the world”.

She is also the first person to take on New Local’s Leadership Lucky Draw. She picks questions at random, from her dream dinner party guests, to inspirational quotes, to how her background shapes where she is today.

Before we start, could you introduce yourself?

I’m councillor Bev Craig. I’m the leader of Manchester City Council. It’s my job as the politician in charge of a city of 600,000 people , to run the city safely, but also to make it a better place. It’s a great job. Probably not one as a kid that I realised that I’d be doing as I grew up, but certainly a very, very exciting time to be running one of the UK’s best cities.

If you had an inspirational quote on your wall, what would it say?

Well this is quite funny really because I suppose I’ve never really bought into those kind of, Etsy style pictures that you would buy and stick up. But if I do look around my office, there’s a little post-it note that somebody gave me that says: “You’re only impatient because you’ve got a lot to change.”

Three leaders dead or alive that you’d have a dinner party with?

I’d say for me, I’d have Nye Bevin, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. And I think they’d be a nice generational, fun mix, and hopefully we’d get the wine flowing.

What single thing would make your job better?

Look, I’m a local government leader. What else am I meant to say here? You know, I think money is certainly one of the things that [would make my] job different.

And I often think about Manchester, the stuff we do in the city. Had we not had budget cuts since 2010 , we’d have an extra £430 million in the coffers. If we hadn’t had the average cut that local government received across the country we’d be £70 million better off. That’s roughly what I spend on all of my neighborhood services.

Are you a community-powered leader? What makes you one?

Well, I have to answer this question because I was one of the leaders that co-authored our recent community power series.

“One of the most powerful things that people in power can do is give it away.”

I think for me one of the most powerful things that people in power can do is give it away. And when I say that, I don’t say it in a kind of vacant or a facetious way. I’ve always been a proponent of devolution, but devolution where you devolve power and control to the lowest possible level, the level that’s closest to communities. I’m a big advocate. The world’s changed. People have changed. How citizens expect to be involved has changed. So government’s got to change with them to be able to reflect that.

How is the leader of the future different from the leader of today?

This is something that really interests me because obviously if you think about where leadership was 20 years ago you can see the evolution of style.

“It doesn’t take a genius to say that most leaders of cities across the globe don’t look or sound like me.”

And I think we haven’t quite made that transition yet to a leadership style that’s more open, more collaborative, seeing these things as a strength. Openness and working with people, particularly in politics, is still seen as a weakness. For me, coming into the role that I’ve got, it doesn’t take a genius to say that most leaders of cities across the globe don’t look or sound like me. And actually it’s recognising that when you choose a style, it’s because you’re choosing, not because you can’t do the other styles.

What’s the secret ingredient for good leadership?

The point about humbleness. I think if you want to think about what a good leader is, [it’s] somebody that’s attuned to how they get the best out of people around them, that recognises the things that they’re really good about and has their own self-confidence to be able to do those things.

I recently had the privilege of being at Sir Bobby Charlton’s funeral. And one of the things that we talked about was the the style of leadership that Sir Bobby gave, not just in football but in society: that humility and humbleness. The ability that when you do something really, really well, you don’t have to go and immediately tell everybody. And I think actually that’s the bit we don’t talk about that. To get the best out of people, you’ve got to be prepared to let them take the spotlight sometimes. But know when you need to be involved.

How did your upbringing shape who you are today?

“You get to experience firsthand how services consistently have not always worked for people, and that’s because they’ve been designed by people with no experience of services.”

We often get involved in politics because of the things that we want to see. And I think for me, growing up where I did and how I did, as a kid in a council estate, eight miles outside of Belfast, you get to experience firsthand how services consistently have not always worked for people, and that’s because they’ve been designed by people with no experience of services.

I’ve always been really proud of not just the of being the first kid to go to uni in my family, but the first kid to do GCSEs. I think there are probably two ways in which it’s shaped me. The first is reaching the point where I harnessed and accepted some of the tricky stuff in my past and my background as the strength I could show in leadership, because that brought with me some unique understanding. And then the second, it’s just a way of making your brain tick when you think about reforming public services. When we talk about stuff like person centered, you’re actually able to think what it means for real people in real settings.

Any secret tips to getting stuff done?

I think to me, there’s something in this around not living the worst bits of old cultures.

We’ve all looked at the videos on Instagram or LinkedIn about the inspirational leader that wakes up at 4:00 AM, that’s done a half marathon before breakfast and completed their emails. But actually to keep yourself at the best it’s about balance, the stuff that makes you happy outside of work. And it’s also how you show leadership to the people around you. I’m not saying that I don’t have to do 12 to 16 hour days most days, but the world doesn’t need to see me slogging my guts out as a driver and motivator for other people to do the same. So I think balance, energy, and passion is what helps you get things done.


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