Showing off our region

We’re at least 280 miles from London.  It’s a long way however you travel.  3 hours by train, 6 hours by car and 27 hours by bike.  But we’re even further in terms of media focus.  The Westminster Bubble is obsessed with political manoeuvrings in Westminster.  Try and get them to cover the creation of thousands of jobs in the North of Tyne, and they’re not interested. 

I guess that cuts both ways.  The impression of London from here can be skewed.  Many see it as a place of opportunity – career advancement, global HQs, the hub of media, arts and culture.  The reality also includes extortionate rents and long commutes. 

On Thursday I had a chance to correct the imbalance.  I showed Adrian Wooldridge, The Economist’s political editor around the North of Tyne.  He was keen to get out of the Westminster bubble. 

I love showing off our region.  Our beautiful coastline, fascinating history, and vibrant culture.  But most of all I love the stories of the people.  We are resilient, entrepreneurial, and passionate.  Too many lack opportunity, though.  We need jobs.  My role as Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority is to fix that.  Removing the barriers that stop people flourishing. 

I took him to visit the Cedarwood Trust in the Meadow Well.  Run by Wayne Dobson and Alison Cunningham, it’s a charity and community centre.  There’s a food club – not a food bank – that sells low cost food.  And with funding from the North of Tyne, they help adult learners get the skills to earn a decent living.  Retraining people on their terms, building confidence and self-esteem.  Our visitor from London was struck by way people’s dignity was a priority. 

Next, we visited Phil Souter & colleagues at Proctor & Gamble’s Advanced Circular Economy Project in Benton.  It’s a partnership with the North of Tyne, P&G, universities and local firms, developing cleaning products that use less heat and water.  Last year Rhona, the R&D Vice President pitched it to me.  She was really up-front, and told me her colleagues had said, “Don’t waste your time.  Nothing happens for years if you talk to government.”  Well, within months the project was up and running, creating high-paying high-tech jobs.  That’s the strength of devolving power out of London, to regional Mayors. 

We visited BritishVolt.  Company Chairman, Peter Rolton, and his colleague Charlotte, drove us round the site.  It is monumental in every way.  Size.  Jobs.  Scale of ambition.  And social and environmental responsibility.  We’re working with BritishVolt to provide the training opportunities to make sure those 3000 jobs go to local people. 

Next to Transmission Dynamics in Cramlington.  They use both human and artificial intelligence to solve complex engineering problems.  Like smart bolts which fit on offshore wind turbines.  It used to be that an engineer would have to sail out to the turbines to check all the bolts were within tolerances.  With the smart bolts this can be monitored from land.  It’s cheaper and saves time and fuel.  Adrian asked development director Jenny Hudson what difference it made having a Mayor.  “There’s someone to focus investment on our region’s strength – offshore renewables.  It means businesses like ours can grow”.  We spoke about the Catapult, our offshore wind projects, and how clean energy will replace our coal-dependent past. 

Our last visit was to Verisure, a global security firm now based near Longbenton.  Kevin Croft was one of the directors I met when we persuaded them to set up here.  “Why did you come here rather than London?” Adrian asked him.  “The people are friendlier.  It’s really true.  And loyal – we want long term development of our staff.  Plus I could by a four bedroom house with a garden for two-thirds the price of my 2 bedroom flat in London.” 

Adrian had never looked round our region in depth before.  He knew it wasn’t all whippets and flat caps, but he wasn’t expecting to see such innovation and potential. 

I explained my vision.  A well-paid job for everyone who wants one, with us as the powerhouse of the new, green economy.  I asked him if he thought I would achieve my vision.  “Yes,” he said.

*Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 06 Sept 2021