Like Bond, let’s just get the job done.
When I was elected Mayor in 2019, I joined the group of Metro Mayors already in existence, and became ‘M9’. The first meeting was in London’s City Hall, where SPECTRE was filmed, doubling as villain C’s HQ. I was disappointed Sadiq Khan wasn’t stroking a white cat.
‘I’m straight out of a Bond movie’ I said to my family, who appeared to be less than convinced. I reminded them that I’m a black-belt in jiu jitsu, and own a tuxedo, but apparently being Bond takes more than that.
Anyway, we all went to see the new Bond at the Tyneside last week – highly recommend and don’t worry, no spoilers – and it set me thinking about the whole series of films.
James Bond has been a British icon since Ian Fleming published Casino Royale in 1953. Bond is always portrayed as a heroic loner. But he depends on a backup team. Q’s extraordinary gadgets – including the visionary message-carrying digital watch from The Spy Who Loved Me. M provides the political cover to operate. Miss Moneypenny’s peerless organisation skills. And a whole team of people providing intelligence and logistical support, sometimes even entire ships’ crews.
Some of the Bond plots, as with the messaging watch, have been remarkably prescient. Okay, none of them foresaw food and petrol shortages, but then neither did Mr Johnson’s government.
In Quantum of Solace, there’s no moonbase or “laser” superweapon. The CIA are involved in regime change and the villains are manipulating utility prices by monopolising the access to water. Take out the stunts, and it’s a documentary. Which makes me wonder – is the chaos of an unregulated market economy causing the latest gas price hikes, or is Blofeld behind it?
Bond villains always have grandiose plans that never work. Often involving improbable construction projects like a bridge to Northern Ireland or airbase in the middle of a river estuary. They treat their underlings with contempt, and make long speeches instead of taking action, in denial that the world is falling into chaos around them…
Bond doesn’t faff about, laughing maniacally. He just gets the job done. As I often say, done is better than perfect.
What would solve our current problems better than Bond’s actions? A high-wage economy, that’s what. Anyone who wants to take over the world would be better deployed making it a better place.
However we view the problem, the solution is the same. We need the people in the North East to have a higher real income. That means generating – and retaining – more wealth in our region. I’m talking about full employment in secure jobs, paying decent wages. This requires and supports a better transport system, higher levels of skills and education, healthier lifestyles, and affordable, secure homes.
It requires an economic model where there’s a job for everyone who wants one, and where wages are high enough to live a life of contentment. That includes sectors traditionally regarded as low-paid, including social care, hospitality, distribution and retail workers. We must focus on improving the foundational economy with as much energy as the high-productivity sectors of digital and manufacturing. This means providing more skills training and professionalisation, so the workforce becomes more valued and better paid, resulting in lower staff turnover and higher productivity.
We’re succeeding, but not quickly enough to close the gap any time soon. I was elected just two years ago, and already the North of Tyne has attracted global firms that practice what they preach, training and developing workers to have careers, not just jobs. We’re creating jobs in key sectors of offshore renewables, clean energy technology, zero-carbon automotive, digital, and healthy ageing and life sciences. We have programmes supporting small- and medium-sized businesses by the hundred, investing in innovation, digital adoption and job creation. We’re supporting freelancers in the culture and creative sectors.
This new economic model for the North East must be built on a green economy. Financial security need not consume more of the Earth’s resources or emit more greenhouse gasses. Our wealth can be spent on art, leisure, entertainment, PassivHaus homes and transport with ultra-low emissions. We can build a wellbeing economy. Like Bond, let’s just get the job done.
*Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 11 Oct 2021