Jamie Driscoll: “All the talk of supporting future innovation will be empty so long as our kids are too hungry to learn.”
Labour’s candidate for North of Tyne Mayor explains why he’s running for election in May.
The North East has a strong regional identity. We were the heart of the industrial revolution. The electric light bulb was invented on Tyneside, hydro electric power was invented in Northumberland, and Stephenson’s rocket was built in Newcastle. I’m an engineer by profession, and our industrial heritage is close to my heart.
As heavy industry declined, there have been efforts, usually led by local Labour councils, to bring new industry and new sectors to the region. Yet we’re still behind the rest of the UK in pretty much every measure of prosperity.
Nationally we’ve been suffering from an unbalanced economy. Too much emphasis and reliance was placed on the City of London; this is universally recognised. Yet there’s no consensus on what to do.
The Mayor has a budget of £20 million a year. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the cuts faced across the public sector. A local, holistic approach is needed. One that understands where money flows, and that captures revenues for local benefit. Money that’s spent in the region needs to remain in the region.
Procurement is the place to start. I’ll be working across the public sector – hospitals, universities, councils – to develop a procurement system that’s easy for small and local businesses to engage in, and that uses social value clauses to promote higher quality full-time employment, training, gender equality and sustainable environmental practices. Local small-business leaders are right on board with this. It’s a proven strategy, leading Preston to be the most improved city in the UK.
New businesses need support to grow. The current financial system extracts wealth from places like the North East. Interest payments account for a huge part of people’s income. A People’s Bank – a regional bank run on a cooperative model – recycles it, making lending available to businesses in the region, and redistributes profits to its local members.
People need secure homes. If people are worried about where they’re going to live, they won’t prosper. With right-to-buy legislation, councils are hamstrung. A Mayor can support cooperative house building to build social housing at fair rent. Owned by its members, and not the state, cooperatives are exempt from right-to-buy. Built using carbon capture materials, and with solar panels, they’ll be environmentally as well as financially sustainable.
I’ll be repurposing underused public buildings to create community hubs, bridging the gap between community centres a business start up units. Adult education will be delivered for skills, yes, but also for cultural and community development.
We’ll need investment from government. Our transport is underfunded, extensions are needed to the local rail and Metro systems to connect outlying towns like Blyth and Ashington. Unless youngsters there can travel cheaply and reliably into college and work, we’re letting them down.
And I’ll be leading a Green Industrial Revolution. A Climate Liaison group bringing together all of the public sector, business and citizens to develop a plan to make the region carbon neutral by 2030. This will include an innovation hub to scale up and support green tech businesses.
Key to every policy strand is democracy. The buy-in of the people is key to shared prosperity. Ownership of their own bank, their own housing coop, their own businesses gives people a sense of empowerment, which leads to self-belief. This, more than anything, will brighten our kids’ futures.
Some might call this programme radical. Some might say it’s just common-sense social democracy that’s commonplace in Scandinavia. I don’t really mind what people call it. I’m a city councillor in Newcastle; in January this year the local foodbank handed out food parcels to 4121 people. 1826 of them were children. All the talk of supporting future innovation will be empty so long as our kids are too hungry to learn. Only a holistic approach will succeed.
The people of the North of Tyne need a Mayor to deliver prosperity we can all be part of.