Titan of Manchester Sir Howard Bernstein dies aged 71

Tributes to Jewish man who led Manchester’s rebirth


Manchester giant, Sir Howard Bernstein, died aged 71 after a short period of illness (Photo: BBC)

Manchester’s Jewish giant, Sir Howard Bernstein, has passed away.

The man credited with the modern revival of Manchester and who said his Jewish background was the driving force behind his work, has died after a “period of illness”, his family confirmed on Saturday.

A chief executive of Manchester council, Sir Howard, also served as vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council.

He joined Manchester town hall aged 18 as a junior clerk in 1971 and rose to become one of the UK’s most influential civil servants outside of London.

He led a generation of civic leadership in the post-industrial city and was described by former chancellor George Osborne as “the star of British local government.”

Manchester’s Metrolink, the regeneration of Hulme, Bridgewater Hall, the Commonwealth Games, Manchester Airport, the rebuild after the 1996 IRA bomb, and devolution all bear his stamp.

His family announced his death with "profound sadness".

They said in a statement: "Sir Howard's legacy shaped Manchester as the city we know, and he will forever be a part of Manchester's history.

"He will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and the city he passionately served."

His family said he was born into a Jewish family and was a "proud grandfather" to seven grandchildren.

Born in Cheetham Hill in 1953, Sir Howard was the oldest of two brothers. His grandparents had emigrated from Russia in the 1900s and his father sold raincoats above a laundrette.

In 2016, Sir Howard told the Manchester Evening News that his Jewish upbringing in the shadow of the Second World War and the Holocaust shaped his outlook on community.

“My father was always very... not political, but very socially aware,” he said.

“I think most Jewish families were in that era, from where they came from, and where their parents came from. Being in a community was fundamental. Treating people with respect, working across the community – that always was seen as being very, very important.”

He helped secure the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and secured its legacy, negotiating Manchester City FC’s move to the stadium built for the games.

He was knighted in 2003 for his services to the city.

During the coalition government, Bernstein helped convince Osborne of untapped economic opportunity in northern England and secured the first English devolution deal outside of London in 2014 for Greater Manchester.

A lifelong supporter of Manchester City FC, he served as honorary president of the club, as well as president of Lancashire Cricket for a decade, and he also became an honorary professor of politics at the University of Manchester.

Sir Howard lived a few miles from where he was born, in Prestwich, Bury, until his death. He leaves behind his wife Vanessa, two children and three stepchildren.

The Board of Deputies marked Sir Howard’s passing with a statement: “The entire Jewish community mourns the loss of Sir Howard Bernstein. He was a titan - both in his remarkable service to the city of Manchester and through his support and encouragement of British Jewish communal initiatives. We send our deepest condolences to his family.

The Jewish Representative Council of Great Manchester and Region said, “The news of Sir Howard’s passing is a source of great sadness to everyone connected with the JRC and the entire Greater Manchester Jewish community.

“Sir Howard was a giant whose strategic vision, insight and wisdom were unmatched.

“Sir Howard was a proud member of our community who had the foresight to look at revolutionising the way our organisations interacted with each other. He was prominent not just as a leader and board member but also worked behind the scenes with his characteristic good humour, fearless determination whilst providing nothing but sound advice and guidance. He was generous with his time and always available with offers of support.

“The contribution he made both to Greater Manchester and our community is immeasurable. His kindness, inspirational story and words of wisdom will be greatly missed.

“We send our love and strength to his family during this difficult time.”

Leader of Manchester City Council, Cllr Bev Craig, said: “Sir Howard served Manchester with remarkable distinction. He will be remembered as a driving force in the city's turnaround from post-industrial decline to the growing, confident and forward-looking city we see today.

He leaves an incredible legacy in the transformation of the city."

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