A Rich and Vibrant Regional Economy In Our Sights

June 14, 2021

The words “Annual General Meeting” generally have the same effect as prescription sleeping pills.  Appointments to committees, scrutiny reports, and dozens of pages of accounts. 

But they are a keystone of democracy and accountability.  It shows the public, amongst other things, what we’ve spent.  The corporate budget is our running costs:  staff wages, office accommodation, IT spending, legal fees, that we spend delivering our targets. 

We’re smashing those targets out of the park.  We have a commitment to government to create 10,000 new, full-time jobs over 30 years.  It’s two years and one month since I was elected, so we should have 700 jobs in the pipeline.  The actual results? Across 66 live projects, we’ve leveraged in £193 million of extra money, we’re creating 4,193 jobs, and safeguarded another 2,673 jobs.  Over 10,000 people have had new training opportunities.  We’ve a whole catalogue of projects tackling climate change, helping communities, building homes, supporting local businesses and protecting vulnerable people in our region. 

At the same time our corporate running costs came in £599,000 under budget.  Given the disruption of the last fifteen months under the pandemic, that is a remarkable achievement.  I’m proud staff team we’ve built at the North of Tyne.  National government could only dream of being this effective and efficient. 

Yet you won’t see a headline anywhere that reads, “Mayor quietly exceeds his targets while coming in under budget.” Despite the fact that the vast majority of people want their politicians to do exactly that.  So if you could spread the word, I’d appreciate it. 

Instead politicians criticise England footballers for taking the knee.  Or Gareth Southgate’s open letter defining Englishness.  For what it’s worth, I agree with the England manager.  But like me, his tenure should, ultimately, be judged by results. 

So back to the excitement that was the North of Tyne Combined Authority’s Annual General Meeting.  Since March 2020, the emergency Covid regulations have allowed us meet and take decisions online.  But in their wisdom, those who write the regulations coming out of Whitehall tell us we must now meet in person. 

Infection control procedures are still in place, and we lead by example, and maintaining the highest standards of public health.  Masks, distancing, hand sanitizer.  So it was still far from back to normal.  And quite right too – the Delta variant is highly transmissible.  As I said in my opening remarks at the AGM, please make sure you get both doses of your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.  I had my second dose weeks ago. 

We rotate our meetings around the region.  So there we were, in a function suite in Newcastle Civic Centre, distanced so far apart that we needed microphones to talk to each other.  A warm welcome to new cabinet members Karen Kilgour from Newcastle, Carl Johnson from North Tyneside and Richard Wearmouth from Northumberland. 

Placing thanks on record to our outgoing cabinet members Joyce McCarty, Bruce Pickard and Richard Dodd.  Continuing our partnership with the North East LEP, represented by Lucy Winskell, and the voluntary sector, represented by Robin Fry. 

And agreeing our corporate plan for the next three years, strongly backed by our existing cabinet members, Norma Redfearn, Nick Forbes and Glen Sanderson, leaders of our three local authorities. 

Zero-Carbon, Zero-Poverty is our objective.  We’ve completed our Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, and our Green New Deal is motoring.  The best way to defeat poverty is to create thousands of good, green jobs – and we’re doing that in spades.  But at Tuesday’s AGM, we also agreed our Child Poverty Prevention Programme.  A series of initiatives to directly assist families who are struggling financially. 

That 22% of kids in the North East are in poverty is a moral outrage.  It’s also economically dysfunctional – we all benefit when bairns get a good start in life.  The irony is that over 70% of kids in poverty come from working households.  We need to make work pay. 

We’ll know the job’s done when our regional economy is so rich and vibrant that everyone can build a life here, and our young people don’t need to move away to pursue their dreams. 

AGMs can be a compelling part of democracy after all.

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 14 June 2021