It’s time to finish the job I started….
December 26, 2023
Christmas can be joyous and fulfilling. It can be challenging time for people, too.
Whatever your situation, I hope you found moments of peace and joy yesterday. For me, I’m probably the classic festive cliché. Eating cold leftovers for days. Falling asleep on the sofa watching Wallace & Gromit. Reaching a point where half a box of Quality Streets is seen as an acceptable breakfast choice – even through the best ones have already been eaten.
This will be my last weekly column for a while. The editors have asked me to stop writing until after the Mayoral election in May. To be honest, it’s been a privilege, and thanks for all the excellent feedback. You can still read my weekly blog on JamieDriscoll.co.uk or social media.
So what better time to reflect on the last few years and look forward to the opportunities of 2024.
This time last year I was fielding calls from journalists about our new North East Devolution Deal. A deal now worth £6.1 billion to our region. A recurring question was, “How did you secure the deal?” The answer’s simple. I put politics to one side and worked with all parties to deliver for the people of the North East. Some see politics as a blame game. I’d rather just get things done. It’s what you’re elected to do.
Our excellent track record as the North of Tyne Combined Authority also helped us land the best funded devolution deal in the country. As Mayor, my main target from Government was to create 10,000 jobs within 30 years. In less than 5 years, our investments are creating 5,377 new jobs. We’ve hit our 2035 target already. We’re 11 years ahead of schedule.
We’ve also helped more people get these good jobs, with free, flexible vocational training courses. When central government was in charge of adult skills, we had 21,885 course enrolments a year. Once adult education was devolved to me, we increased it to 35,230. On the same budget. A 61% increase in value for money.
We’re also building 1,948 new homes on brownfield sites. With low-carbon and affordable housing. Including council homes.
Working with partners in Northumberland County Council, we’re re-opening the Northumberland line from Ashington into central Newcastle. It’ll start taking passengers in 2024.
We’ve invested £25 million in offshore wind and we’re tackling child poverty in 98 schools.
There’s no template for running a successful combined authority. Devolution is just a vehicle, you need the right driver. My goal was always to build a zero-carbon, zero-poverty, North East, with thriving modern industries and richer communities. We’re making real progress. And we’ve done this without borrowing money or putting a penny on your council tax bills. People of ordinary means already pay enough tax.
All of this was achieved against the backdrop of a global pandemic, war in Europe and the Middle East, and political chaos in Westminster.
So what does the future hold? The truth is nobody knows. So, instead of making predictions I’ll make a resolution. To finish the job I started in 2019.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority was always just the beginning. I knew that the real prize of devolution was transport. Getting transport powers and money required bringing the region together from Berwick to Barnard Castle. I’ve done that. From May we’ll have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a modern, efficient, reliable transport system.
If I’m re-elected, this time as North East Mayor, I’ll build a Total Transport Network. London style fully integrated public transport under public control. With cross-ticketing, low fares and free travel for all young people 18 and under.
For too long we’ve been the poor relation to London and the South East. Why shouldn’t we have the best public transport system in the country? Why shouldn’t we be the beating heart of the Green Industrial Revolution? Why shouldn’t we expect well paid jobs and secure, thriving communities? We know that we can’t rely on Westminster to solve our problems, so let’s be bold and creative in finding our own solutions.
This is my New Year’s resolution: to continue fighting for the North East – and getting results. As my Mam always said, ‘shy bairns get nowt’.