From Peppa Pig to Lederhosen – it’s been an interesting week

From Peppa Pig to Lederhosen, it’s been an interesting week.

Monday started with getting the Metro over to Tyne Dock for the CBI conference. And the collective disbelief when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland started doing car impressions from the platform. He then quoted Lenin, compared himself to Moses, and after losing his place, a bizarre tangent about Peppa Pig. The assembled business audience weren’t impressed. Asked about the failure to invest in rail links to the North East, the PM said it was all going to be brilliant. Then mentioned Warrington, Marsden (near Huddersfield), Birmingham and Nottingham. Every one of those places is south of the M62.

What a contrast to Tony Danker, CEO of the CBI. He said industry’s priorities are investment in research and development, industrial strategy around building clusters of expertise, and investment in skills training. And gently mocked the idea that Peppa Pig world was the way to level up the North.

By the way, this idea that Labour was ever hostile to business is rubbish. Firms that look after their workers are a blessing. It’s tax dodging, fire-and-rehire, and asset stripping that we want to eradicate. Something we share with every ethical business out there. In fact, Tony Danker praised the work we’re doing in the North of Tyne.

It’s not all meetings and speeches, of course. Most of my job is about delivery. Building links with businesses to boost the local economy. Joint working with colleges and universities. Working through policy proposals with the team, and adding the weight of the Mayoral office to bring people together and get things done – letters, Zooms, and old fashioned phone calls. Plus vast amounts of reading – budget reports, policy reports, investment reports. Being on top of the detail matters, but doesn’t translate into an interesting newspaper column.

Extended North East devolution is on the agenda. North of Tyne leaders are discussing what’s needed across the North of Tyne, as a precursor to dealing with Government. Rural Northumberland has different priorities for the urban core of Tyne & Wear. Different, but reinforcing. Better rail connections benefit Morpeth and Hexham as much as Gosforth and Gateshead. Affordable housing is an issue in Beadnell and North Shields. We all want to create more jobs.

Wednesday, a train to Leeds for the Transport for the North Board (TfN). It was a feisty one. Last week’s Integrated Rail Plan stirred a hornets’ nest. I spoke in detail about how and why we needed the Leamside Line reopening, and it was adopted into a unanimous agreed position from the TfN board.

The Secretary of State needs to sit down with us and find the mechanisms for delivering the full Northern Powerhouse Rail project. Specifically, all five Metro Mayors present want powers on Land Value Uplift. Northumberland Council have been piloting this for reopening the Northumberland line. I’ve been pushing this with treasury ministers and officials. When taxpayers fund a new railway station, the land around it shoots up in value. Rather than going to property speculators, it should fund the project.

With those powers we can build new Metro extensions, stations in rural Northumberland, and superbus routes across our region. At the People’s Powerhouse Convention on Thursday, Andy Burnham was kind enough to point out that I’d led the thinking on this. There are decent politicians about – not everyone is in it for the second jobs.

Thursday evening was Mayor’s Question Time at the Catalyst in Newcastle. After talking about White Ribbon day – the campaign to encourage men and boys to stand up to violence against women and girls, I took questions. Details of the jobs we’re creating. The climate education we’re delivering in schools. Mobility scooter access on the new Metro trains. Improving health through better economic outcomes. Affordable housing. The balance between work and family life. And too much else to cover here. We’re chopping the video up into question-sized chunks and publishing it online.

Early Friday, and a train down south. I chaired a conference building political, business and university links between the North East and Bavaria. The comparisons and contrasts are fascinating. We share a strong regional identity. Far from Berlin, Bavaria was the poorest region in Germany. It grew into the richest by using devolved powers. We’ve agreed to build links on research and development and the green economy, so time well spent. Plus the personal connections – on Friday evening, a Bavarian minister sang us a German song, and I felt it was only fair to reciprocate with the Blaydon Races.

Then home by Saturday night, and seeing the snow and disruption caused by Storm Arwen. I hope you’re keeping safe and warm