Bernstein’s vision for Manchester future

By Jonathan Kalmus, February 26, 2009

Manchester Jewry could benefit from the recession as better job prospects and higher living standards stem the tide of younger community members migrating to London. That’s the view of Manchester City Council chief executive and Manchester Jewish Community Project (MJCP) chair Sir Howard Bernstein.

During a wide-ranging interview, Sir Howard — who spearheaded the rebuilding of the city centre after the 1996 IRA bombing — argued that Manchester offered an attractive alternative to the capital in employment and lifestyle terms, a view that will be reinforced in an MJCP marketing drive among young professionals.

He maintained that 45,000 new jobs created over the past five years would weather the economic storm clouds and that the city was home to the country’s fastest-growing law firms. Furthermore, “creative initiatives such as the BBC media city will mean far more young professionals will be looking to stay.

“People assume you need to go to London for career opportunities, but the evidence no longer suggests that. We are still creating job spaces.”

In contrast to a growing Charedi population — which accounts for nearly one-third of Manchester’s estimated 28,000 Jews — the mainstream community has been in decline. Young adults have left for London in search of career advancement, a bigger Jewish scene and to find a Jewish partner.

One migrating media sales director said two-thirds of her Jewish school peers had also made the move. “I went to London and my social scene has moved with me. There is now a vibrant young Jewish Manchester in London.”

This trend is equally apparent at the top end of the professional spectrum. Brian White, senior tax partner at Deloitte’s Manchester office, said the “bright lights of London” had bedazzled some of the “best and brightest, which means we also lose future community leaders”.

The MJCP promotional drive has come not a moment too soon for Daniel Kasmir, who has directed human resources departments for firms such as Manpower and BDO Stoy Hayward.

In his view, “the community has failed to sell the virtue of cheaper housing and more plentiful places in schools to people in London struggling with crippling mortgages and the stress of getting their children places in top Jewish schools”.

Keen to involve all strands of the community in the MJCP’s vision, Sir Howard noted the “super strides” made by the Charedim, “with Salford and Bury councils grasping how to work closely and intelligently with the community”.

The merger of Manchester’s two largest welfare charities, Heathlands and The Fed, was an example of providing services more efficiently. But to meet the challenges of housing and welfare provision, he looked to the entire community working together to ensure that assets were properly exploited.

“One of the key tests is the way in which we manage greater levels of integration between the Charedi and mainstream children.

“It’s not only about retaining values, but about mainstream kids respecting Charedi kids and Charedi kids respecting mainstream ones. The £25 million rebuild of the King David complex is a manifestation of Manchester City Council’s commitment to education. Could we see a Charedi child in KD, taking advantage of a high-tech quality building?”

Although educational integration seemed unrealistic to Nava Kestenbaum, director of Manchester services for Charedi charity Interlink, she supported the principle of greater interaction.

“In social welfare, I wish people could see the huge amount of solid, intelligent activity which frum people do. Charedi people are broadening their sense of responsibility in the wider community.”

    Last updated: 5:13pm, July 22 2009