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‘Scandalous’ lack of Black people in prominent roles called for action in Manchester

Photo by Josh Kahen on Unsplash

Just 4.6% of people in prominent public positions in Manchester are Black, according to wide-ranging analysis, prompting leading politicians and campaigners to call for radical action to address the “scandalous” lack of representation.

The number of Black people in Manchester in the most powerful and influential positions in politics, sport, education, arts, business and health is significantly unrepresentative of the city’s Black population, which stands at 14.8%.

This is in contrast to Liverpool and Bristol, other English cities with long-established Black communities and a significant historical relationship with the business of slavery, where Black representation in prominent city roles is in keeping with the underlying makeup of the population as recorded in the 2021 census.

Overall, the representation of people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) in Manchester’s prominent public positions was higher, at 18.7%, but still significantly out of proportion. Manchester’s BAME population is 43.2% of the city’s inhabitants.

The Guardian analysis showed there were no Black leaders in the executive positions of local media outlets, the local police force, Premier League teams, the Chamber of Commerce, and university executive boards that were looked at in the sample. While 6.3% of Manchester’s city councillors were Black, the city has yet to elect a Black MP.

These circles represent the 219 most powerful and influential positions in Manchester.

Campaigners described the figures as a “national embarrassment” and said they highlighted a “pervasive myth of meritocracy” that permeated and shut certain people out of jobs and roles.

The Guardian analysed Manchester’s position of power as part of the Cotton Capital editorial project, which explores the wealth of the Guardian’s founder and his backers that was derived from trades linked to slavery, and in one case enslavement itself, and the impact it has had on descendant communities, and how it shaped modern Britain.

Manchester is a key focus of the Cotton Capital project as the Manchester Guardian had links to the slavery economy through similar commercial interests in the city’s cotton and textiles industry. The Guardian chose to include Liverpool and Bristol as comparative cities in the project.

Cotton Capital explores how transatlantic slavery shaped the Guardian, Manchester, Britain and the world. Stemming from
an investigation into the Guardian founders’ own links to slavery, this continuing series explores our history and its
enduring legacies today.

The analysis defined individuals as Black if they were a person of African descent and included those of mixed heritage. The analysis used a similar methodology to the Guardian and Operation Black Vote’s Colour of Power investigation. It analysed leading organisations in different fields as part of a sample that would provide a snapshot of the state of ethnic representation within a city; the included organisations were therefore not an exhaustive list.

In Manchester, Black people were best represented in executive positions in arts bodies and NHS trusts, with the figures 14.3% and 8.3% respectively.

The data analysis looked at the ethnicity of more than 580 individuals in executive positions across several categories, including local policing, the Chamber of Commerce, Premier League teams, arts bodies, university boards, NHS trusts, as well as local political representation across the three comparable cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol.

In 2021, a country-wide analysis carried out by Operation Black Vote found that of a list of 1,100 powerful figures, 6.3% were from ethnic minorities, with only 19 (1.6%) BAME women. The 2021 findings marked an improvement on an equivalent exercise the organisation carried out in partnership with the Guardian in 2017.

In neighbouring Liverpool, 5% of leading public positions were held by Black people, a figure that matches the city’s 5.2% Black population.

Liverpool’s Black representation was particularly high in politics, in contrast with Manchester, with a Black MP, Black mayor and several Black local councillors. The Black representation in arts bodies was 10% of the sample, while Black representation at university boards stood at 5.9%.

However, Liverpool’s representation of BAME people in prominent public positions stands at 9.4%, a figure significantly underrepresentative of the city’s BAME population, which is 16%.

Liverpool lacked any Black representation in the executive positions in local media, the police, Premier League teams, the Chamber of Commerce and NHS trusts that were part of the study.

In Bristol about 8% of powerful and influential positions were held by Black people, matching the city’s Black population of 8.1%.

Almost 10% of Bristol’s local councillors were Black, with the city also having a Black mayor and one MP from a minority ethnic background.

Simon Woolley, who founded Operation Black Vote, said he was not surprised by the findings. “I think, particularly with Liverpool and Bristol, there’s been a two-way engagement from the leaders. First, Joe Anderson, the former Liverpool mayor, and the Bristol leadership, have engaged with Black communities and that’s why you’re seeing the dividends.

“In Manchester, for many decades there was little or no engagement. And it’s not been until Andy Burnham has come to the fore that he is now consciously nurturing talent, and I strongly believe in five years we will see a dramatic difference.”

During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Lord Woolley was invited to play a key role in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). He said he initially faced pushback from power bases across Manchester. “Part of the answer from that commission was to set up a Black, Asian and minority ethnic leadership project, the type of which we’ve done in Liverpool and Bristol. And I believe that when you intervene, to create spaces, and leadership learning, and then pathways to power, you will see change.”

Woolley added: “The reason why two cities have and one city hasn’t is because of the lack of engagement by the leadership with community groups. If you invest, you nurture, you deliver. If you don’t, nothing changes. You cannot cross your fingers and hope for change in an environment which at times doesn’t acknowledge Black talent, much less of a pathway for it to go from A to B to success.”

Halima Begum, the director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “On the national level, there is some incredibly positive data in this report. Cities like Bristol and Liverpool are really leading the way in terms of how to achieve diversity in civic, public and corporate leadership. However, Manchester should consider itself named and shamed.

“On first sight, anyone studying this [the Manchester] data would be forgiven for thinking they were looking at a snapshot of 70s Britain rather than an analysis of the leaders who preside over one of the country’s greatest, most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in 2023.”

She added: “This is not just a national embarrassment. To be frank, thinking of the underlying message this data sends to the tens of thousands of minority children, families and residents of this great city, it’s actually scandalous.

“The city’s leaders are entitled to claim that Manchester is England’s capital of the north. But in equity terms, something is clearly broken and it must make many Mancunians deeply uncomfortable to know they’re being shown the way by London, Bristol and, of course, their old friends in Liverpool.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “Employers benefit from a diverse workforce, including in senior roles. Diversity of views and backgrounds can help companies to make better decisions, draw on the widest possible talent pool, and meet the needs of all their customers and service users. This is especially important for those organisations providing public services in communities across Britain.

“The EHRC has consistently recommended gathering and reporting employee data by ethnicity, disability, age and sex, including for recruitment, retention and promotion. This will help employers know that they are treating the staff fairly, and to implement action plans where there are issues to address to improve diversity, including by eliminating bias in recruitment or promotion.”

Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, said: “I think it’s clear to anyone that, despite the progress we’ve made, the country as a whole has got a long way to go to ensure that Black communities are properly represented in civic life. That will require tackling racial inequality and injustice at the root, and creating more opportunities for people to join and lead the organisations that take decisions affecting their lives.

“It’s something we absolutely recognise here in Greater Manchester. It’s why we worked closely with Lord Simon Woolley and Operation Black Vote in 2020 to develop our civic leadership programme, and why we set up a race equality panel in the same year to engage with racially minoritised communities and enable their insight and experiences to influence and challenge policy and decision-making.

“Our civic leadership programme offers first-hand experience and insight into different areas of public life, from local government and education through to health, policing and the criminal justice system, and is designed to equip participants with the tools and knowledge to take up leadership positions in these sectors. It also works with the organisations that are taking part to ensure they gain a better understanding of systemic inequalities, and how to support people from minoritised backgrounds to achieve their ambitions and their potential.

“We had a really positive response to the first programme, and the 28 people on that cohort graduated in December. We’re now looking ahead to the next phase of the programme later this year, and at how we can develop it further by incorporating different areas of public and civic life. That work is being led by Diane Modahl, who’s been such a fantastic ambassador and advocate for empowering young people across our city region.”

Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, the executive member for human resources and organisational development for Manchester city council, described the findings as “a reminder that there is still a long way to go to ensure full representation across the city’s sectors” and hoped it would serve as a “wake-up call to any who are lagging behind”.

He said: “We agree that there should be more black Mancunians and members of other ethnic groups in the most influential positions across the city. This is a proudly diverse city and it’s important that this is reflected at all levels.”

“Every organisation and business must play its part in tackling the underrepresentation of black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities.”

The black population of each city is defined as those self-identifying as black or “mixed: white and black Caribbean” or “mixed: white and black African” in the 2021 census. The methodology reflects that used by the Guardian/Operation Black Vote for our 2017 Colour of Power series. The analysis is based on the positions as listed on the relevant organisations’ websites of our sample on 28 March 2023. Any list that aims to define positions of power will be subjective by nature and can never be definitive. However, our list acts as a snapshot of the powerful players in the cities covered by the research. The dots represent positions held: two individuals held more than one position on the list and therefore appear twice.

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