Manchester communal legend Sir Howard Bernstein dies, aged 71

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Manchester communal legend Sir Howard Bernstein dies, aged 71

Family statement expresses 'profound sadness' at the death of one of the driving forces behind Manchester's revival as modern city, born into a Jewish family in Cheetham Hill in 1953

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Sir Howard Bernstein
Sir Howard Bernstein

Sir Howard Bernstein, widely credited with being one of the driving forces behind the modern revival of the city of Manchester and a “titan” of the Jewish community, has died, aged 71.

The Manchester council chief executive, who always spoke openly about how his Jewish background was the driving force behind his belief in the importance of community, passed away after a “period of illness”, officials in the city confirmed.

Sir Howard, a vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council, leaves behind his wife Vanessa, two children and three step children.Confirming his death, the family said in a statement:”With profound sadness, we announce the passing of our beloved Sir Howard Bernstein. Sir Howard Bernstein was born into a Jewish family in Cheetham Hill in 1953, the older of two brothers. 

“He was married to Lady Vanessa Bernstein, brother to Russell, a loving father to Jonathan and Natalie, and a devoted stepfather to Danielle, Francesca, and Dominique. Sir Howard was also a proud grandfather to seven grandchildren. 

“Sir Howard is best known as one of the chief architects of Manchester’s resurgence over the last four decades and was Knighted for his services to Manchester in 2003.

“In 1971, Sir Howard began his career at Manchester Town Hall, eventually serving as Chief Executive of Manchester City Council for 20 years until his retirement in March 2017. His deep love and passion for Manchester shaped the city we know today, and he remained committed and active in supporting the city up to his passing.

“Sir Howard is widely recognised as the driving force behind the transformation of modern Manchester.”A lifelong supporter of Manchester City FC, Sir Howard served as its Honorary President. He was also the president of Lancashire Cricket for a decade, and after retiring from public life, he became an Honorary Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester.

“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.”

“Sir Howard is the outstanding local government leader of his generation,” former JLC chief executive Simon Johnson said when he was appointed a JLC vice-president.

“His unparalleled experience will be of huge value to our community and we look forward to working with him.”

In a statement the Board of Deputies said the “entire Jewish community mourns the loss”. It said:”He was a titan both in his service to the city of Manchester and encouragement of British Jews communal initiatives.”

Former chancellor George Osborne once dubbed Sir Howard “one of the very, very best public servants [he had] ever come across.”

In a 2016 interview with the Manchester Evening News, Sir Howard told how his Jewish upbringing in the shadow of the Second World War shaped his outlook on life – and would come to shape his home city. “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.”

Proud of the impact his ability to attract investment in Manchester made, he also once said:”It’s my city.

“I’ve always been a proud Manc. I’ve always regarded this place as the most cosmopolitan, the most successful city about.

“For a Jewish guy to become chief executive of the city council and never once in his entire career experience any kind of racism or prejudice – I find that quite remarkable. I think that speaks a lot about this city. If you chopped off people’s hands here they’d have Manchester through it. 

“I think people here are different.”

Sir Howard had  progressed up the ranks of the council, after his talent was recognised by the local MP Graham Stringer.

Later it was Tory cabinet minister Michael Hesletine who came to back Sir Howard’s plan for the regeneration of the city’s Hulme area in 1991.

After the devastating 1996 IRA bomb in the city, Sir Howard negotiated almost £600m of public and private sector cash to rebuild the city.Sir Howard  was knighted in 2003 New Year’s Honours list.

Bernstein is acknowledged to have inspired investment and growth and reformed the council’s public sector work, including its healthcare provision, for which he was subsequently listed as one of the most influential people in the NHS.

Among those pay their respects was former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson who said:”Sorry to read of the death of Sir Howard Bernstein. He was a visionary public servant – the City Chief Exec that all other City Chief execs looked up to. With Richard Leese he helped make modern Manchester the Global powerhouse it is today. My thoughts are with his family and many friends. “

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