Like an iceberg, most politics happens below the surface

Politics is like an iceberg.  Nine tenths of it is out of sight, certainly as far as the news goes.  Two stories dominate right now. 

First, it turns out our Prime Minister did break lots of lockdown rules.  What, really?  I’m shocked!    

You’ve already made you mind up as to whether the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a lying criminal without a shred of honour – or an honest upstanding gentleman of impeccable virtue who we’re lucky to have shepherding us through these troubled times.  You might even think he is 100% focused on running the country, and not spending all his time wriggling around like a greased piglet in a desperate attempt to salvage his career.  Nothing I write will change your opinion.

The second story is the windfall tax.  Sorry – the “temporary targeted energy profits levy”.  Heaven forbid that the Chancellor should acknowledge that he’s implementing the exact policy Labour has campaigned for.    

It’s a good policy.  We’re funding their megaprofits through our bills.  The price of energy to wash our clothes and cook our meals has skyrocketed.  The new policy will genuinely help people in dire need.  Well done Mr Sunak. 

But why did it take nearly six months to implement?  Too often in politics point scoring gets in the way of good governance.  If it’s a good policy, do it, regardless of whose idea it was. 

Win-win is a bit of cliché, but it’s true.  It’s how I approach the job of Mayor.  I’m only successful if the people I work with are successful.  In the past fortnight I’ve had over a dozen key meetings with business and political leaders, to land investment in our region. 

A week last Tuesday I was in Leeds for UKREiiF – a large investment conference.  I spoke on a panel with my fellow Metro Mayors, reinforcing each other’s position on getting more investment to the North.  I also spoke to ethical fund managers about financing genuinely affordable housing here. 

I met with Investment Minister Lord Grimstone.  The Offshore Testing facility in Blyth missed out on £30 million of investment in the last spending round.  Unless the UK invests in research and development, industry will invest abroad.  He agreed with me.  What’s good for Blyth is good for Britain.  A win-win. 

Thursday I was in Leeds again.  The public part was a photo-op on a bus.  I find these things a bit cheesy.  But the meeting with my fellow Mayors, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy was useful.  Labour has been out of power nationally for twelve years.  Our Metro Mayors show that economic competence and compassionate policies can go hand in hand. 

And on that, I met with Gordon Brown and his team on Wednesday.  They’ve been working up Labour’s Constitutional Commission.  It’s not finalised, so forgive me for being vague, but I was genuinely impressed with its scope and depth.  It really does address some of the imbalances in Britain’s economy and decision making.  Who knows when the next election is, but working with a Labour government could turbocharge the work we’re doing in the North of Tyne. 

The North East leads on battery technology, building two new gigafactories, bringing thousands of new jobs.  But government investment in the training facilities has historically gone to the West Midlands.  Last Friday I met with the North East Battery Alliance and BritishVolt, to scope a joint project for training facilities here. 

The Parliamentary Adult Education Bill includes a national register of adult education providers.  Local firms won’t be able to run work-related training courses.  Last Monday I met with Education Secretary last Nadhim Zahawi, asking him to allow Mayoral Combined Authorities to accredit providers.  After all, we already have robust due diligence.  “I can see it would make life easier for you, and for us,” he said.  Again, the win-win. 

I’m meeting him again to discuss school age education – one of the government’s “levelling up” missions.  There’s benefit in allowing our local education teams more control and flexibility.  Greater Manchester are also negotiating additional devolution around this, so Andy Burnham and I are supporting each other.    

You’ll be aware we’re negotiating with government for a bigger Mayoral Combined Authority here in the North East.  For the past three years I’ve been working with the leaders of our local authorities to arrive at a joint “ask”. 

We want new, expanded region to get at least as much funding per capita that we get for the North of Tyne.  It’s already the highest per capita devolution deal, so government are reluctant to scale it up. 

At the moment, capital expenditure for the Tyne & Wear Metro comes from central government – as it should.  We want the Metro this to continue, and not have the Metro eat up the new devolved transport money. 

Last week I met Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and pressed the case on Metro funding.  On Wednesday I met Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, and discussed the total amount of funding we’d need to make any deal acceptable.  I’ll be discussing the details with my fellow local leaders before publishing it here, but suffice to say both ministers see the benefits of a win-win.    

Getting hot and confrontational is the best way to get the headlines.  Getting the job done means staying cool.  So like an iceberg, most politics happens below the surface.  

*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 30 May 22