The real prize is transport

One of our North East Labour MPs told me, “The best thing about London is getting the train out of Kings Cross on a Thursday night!”  I don’t know about you, but I love that view of the Tyne Bridges when you arrive back in the region.  I always look – it never gets old. 

Luckily as North of Tyne Mayor, most of my work is done here – with partners and the people of our region, delivering jobs and a brighter future. 

Sometimes, though, the road to prosperity passes through Whitehall, so every few weeks I jump on a train and head south.  Not because I want to eat pie & mash or take pictures of Tower Bridge, but to whisper in the ear of investors, businesses, and particularly government ministers.  It pays off.  Last year we were the number one region in the country for job creation from inward investment.  We beat London, and Manchester.  Not that you’d know that from the national news. 

In my 2019 manifesto, I promised to bring the region together and get more power and money devolved here.  When decisions are left in Whitehall, we slip down the priority list.  Working with our local council leaders, I’ve delivered on that promise and secured a £48 million a year deal, way better than the £38 million that places like West Midlands, Manchester, or in fact any region gets. 

The real prize, though, is transport. 

Back in February 2020 I was down in London, at the Treasury, talking to the Chancellor and junior ministers.  Shy barins get nowt, I thought, and so pushed for the North East to get a huge transport settlement.  “But you’re not united as a region” was the response, “so you can’t.” 

I called their bluff.  “If we can unite as a region, can we have it then?”  It’s taken a lot of work.  A lot of ministers – and Prime Ministers – have come and gone.  But starting in May next year we get £4.27 billion, building on the track record we’ve delivered at the North of Tyne over the past 4 years. 

If elected as North East Mayor, I will build a Total Transport Network to connect the entire region – with integrated bus, metro and rail routes that will be so cheap, so fast, so safe and so reliable that people will start leaving their cars at home. If London can do it, why can’t we? 

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you’ll find, you get what you need.”  So sang the Rolling Stones.  I’d like a proper pay rise for public sector workers.  I’d like power and water, and mail and rail back in public ownership.  I’d like to see free university education, and funding restored to schools and the NHS.  I’m not going to get those powers – that will take a change of policy in Westminster, and let’s be honest, a change in government.  I think long-term investment pays for itself, though – it certainly does in Germany and Denmark and other advanced economies.  Austerity was always a false economy.   

But this devolution deal will make a real difference.  Already in the North of Tyne literally thousands of people have a job as a result of our investment.  That changes their lives, their families, and boosts our regional economy.  It’s the start of closing our health and education gaps – people in well-paid jobs is the basis of any progressive country. 

Since devolution we’ve increased the numbers of people getting training from 22,000 a year to 33,000 a year.  That’s 11,000 people extra people getting qualified as goods drivers, chefs, welders or computer administrators.  Earning more money.  And we’ve got specialist programmes supporting those who need the most help. 

This Monday is May Day, or International Workers’ Day.  I’ll be out door knocking to get Labour councillors elected, to deliver on those Labour values of fairness, creating good, well-paid jobs.  Then I’ll jump on a train and be off to talk to ministers and investors in London.  Already this year we’ve secured an extra £9m to provide free, flexible training so people can work around existing shifts, or caring responsibilities.  These trips to London pay off.