Softly, Softly, Catchee £4.27 Billion

March 19, 2023

“Text Michael Gove”, read the tweet from @BlaydonBarney (no surname or profile picture). “I hear you and him are best buddies.”

Well, I’ve never been for a pie and pint with the man. But if Barney’s suggesting I meet with Mr. Gove and other Government ministers to get more money and power for the North East, then yup.  That’s my job.  And talking to ministers – lots of ministers – is what’s got us £4.27 billion from central Government, delivering my manifesto promise to try and bring the whole region together.

In fact, my job consists of basically two things.  One, getting cash and powers for the region.  Two, investing it to make people’s lives better.

I often let you know about our investments.  There’s 135 active projects creating thousands of jobs, reducing climate damage, tackling poverty, helping local business, and getting people better skilled and educated so they can earn more and live a richer life.  A Treasury report said it was “remarkable” how effectively we’ve invested – far surpassing expectations.

The whole North of Tyne team – me, staff, and our cabinet members from the local authorities – work together on getting money into the region, too.  Last year the North East was the number one region in the whole country for job creation from inward investment.  Yet you won’t hear that in the national media.

In fact, we’ve just secured another £80 million from Whitehall to develop ‘Investment Zones’. Spread over five years, we’ll use the money to improve digital connectivity, start-up and scale-up facilities for local business, to create more well-paid jobs.

You might recall that Liz Truss (remember her?) proposed investment zones in September 2022.  Along with others, I raised serious concerns about lowering environmental standards and workers’ rights.

In the end, Ms. Truss lost. The lettuce won. The headlines moved on. But I kept talking to ministers.  The concept of Government intervening to create good jobs is sound.  It was the race-to-the-bottom on tax that was the problem – shifting jobs from one place to another.

I told them we’re the experts on our region.  Every week I talk to our businesses, our research institutions, our workforce and trade unions.  How can you boost a region without listening to the people who live there?  And I now have it in writing that they will co-design the investment zones with us.  No loss in workers’ rights or environmental protections.

Political negotiations aren’t like the films or TV.  People banging their hands on tables.  Then cut to several hours later, where people’s ties are loosened and the table’s covered in empty coffee cups.  Then the hero gives some inspirational speech and saves the day.

Actually, that’s not strictly true, I have seen politicians bang their hands on tables, and raise their voices.  They just looked petulant, and lost credibility.

Effective negotiation is about finding the win-win.  In politics, between people with very different values and ideologies, that can be hard.  All the while keeping very busy people interested enough to keep answering your texts and taking your calls.

It’s very easy, and very tempting, to see them as political enemies.  To get into arguments about social justice.  That way lies deadlock.  You’ve got to keep your ego out of it.

This is not like an industrial dispute where they need you to return to work.  They’ve been quite happy to ignore many regions completely.  They can walk away any time they choose.  Yet we got to the front of the queue, ahead of Tory areas.

If you can speak their language, they’ll listen.  I want well paid green jobs with good trade union terms and conditions.  But I talk about investment to boost productivity in emerging sectors.

If they’re intrigued by a proposition that will create thousands of jobs and boost the Treasury’s coffers, they’ll keep talking.

And if you’ve got a good track record of delivery, they take you seriously.  Then, and only then, can you get deals done.

Thing is, you actually have to understand this stuff, or you get rumbled.  You can’t have a Mayor that spits the dummy out when negotiations get difficult.

The people of the North East elected me to build bridges, not burn them.