The North of Tyne is a region with enormous opportunity, driven by the most passionate and hard-working people in the land.
But we have suffered decades of Westminster neglect and the squabbles of local politics. The region needs to think bigger with a mayor to represent us on the wider stage, but with the ability to deliver projects with impact on the ground.
I have a strong track record to drive the region forward as mayor. Ten years ago, I returned to the region to help lead the family business, Hoults Yard at Byker . I have since trebled its size, providing workspace for over 750 people across 150 brilliant local businesses. I have also started a software firm and a recruitment firm, now both employing over 120 staff.
In 2012, I founded Dynamo, a network to champion the 40,000+ people working in the North East’s tech sector. Dynamo has identified 4,000 tech vacancies in the region: proof that the new jobs exist. Every week, I receive emails from returning locals looking to be signposted to the exciting careers on offer in the sector. Dynamo gives careers talks in school. And it connects firms looking for new business or to lobby the region for government investment.
Dynamo has initiated £100m in projects, including North East Futures UTC, a science-specialist state school for 600, and secured £30m for Newcastle University’s new National Innovation Centre for Data at Science Central, working with the city council, university and the tech industry.
I have also worked on the £40m International Centre for Connected Construction (IC3) and, with Whitehall, on the National Leadership Centre to develop a £10m programme to equip UK and overseas civil servants for digital transformation in their roles.
I have also attended monthly board meetings of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership with other business groups to input into regional industrial strategy. This has allowed me to input to the big picture for the region, picking up on long-running debates and gleaning angles for new projects. It is essential to have the trust of a great network of civic-minded people to develop our local economy.
For instance, I have driven the region’s unique cluster in construction software to press for the IC3 centre of excellence. I brought in Northumbria University, the UK’s leading player in architecture and built environment studies. I launched IC3 in the Institution for Civil Engineers and House of Lords, lobbied to partner Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain and articulated the export benefits to Brexit secretary Martin Callanan.
This is a flagship project to signal big ambition as a region. It places us at the heart of the global digital revolution in a niche that accounts for 12% of global GDP and where our students can learn to lead on 21st century software tools to manage the building process as it moves to automation.
We can repeat this ambition in other digital niches, but also advanced manufacturing, tourism, agribusiness, professional services, medicine — all areas where we are already world-beaters but sometime hide our excellence under northern modesty!
The remit for the North of Tyne mayor extends to education and skills, housing and transport. I have worked on Dynamo’s apprentice system and proposed a ‘mentor for every child’ system that has proved itself at the UTC. My expansion of Hoults Yard Hubs, investing £7m of risk capital in new sites in Gateshead, Haymarket and Sunderland, gives me insights into the property projects and planning complexity across the wider region.
As the new mayor, I would generate access to £600m in funding at the off. I want to grow this to deliver what the region needs. I will create more jobs, fix disjointed transport, inspire young talent, build stronger community and cheerlead for inward investment.
We need a strong mayor to press our case at Westminster for increased funding to wipe out long-running inequality. It will take modern, inclusive leadership to steward the diverse teams that operate across our city, coast and county.
I’m also running for mayor because I fear the election of a mayor from the hard-left Momentum faction of the Labour party. This risks returning us to an era of strife and textbook economic experiments.
I’m old enough (just) to remember the 1970s winter of discontent: public sector strikes saw the rubbish pile up on the streets of our city. My father-in-law has vivid memories of Liverpool under Militant Labour’s Derek Hatton. As a headmaster in Toxteth, he received redundancy notices for his whole staff — sent by taxi from the council offices.
I fear a return to these bad old days if the region elects Momentum in May. We don’t want return to an era of being branded ‘sick man Of Europe’, with Newcastle bottom of the economic league tables.
In February, the North East was ranked at Number 1 in the UK for business growth, above even London, by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, contributing £3.1bn to the regional economy and a whopping rise of 48.9% since 2010. Let’s turbo-charge our current position, not risk a return to the slow lane.
In readiness for this mayoral campaign, I have started asking experts in the region what they want to see. I’m a founder member of the NE property network Developing Consensus and have held sessions with lifelong professionals Gavin Black and Eric Morgan. In education, I have sought support from Giselle Stewart, of computer games firm Ubisoft, and a governor of Newcastle College Group, Mark Squires.
I’ve spent time with Tees Valley’s own elected mayor, Ben Houchen, to understand what has driven his success there. Ben has a positive vision for the future Teesside, taking back control from creeping Westminster centralisation and making a real difference. I want to do the same for North of Tyne.
Our region needs big ideas and big ambition to seize the opportunities of the global next industrial revolution. I am indebted to many who share my deep-rooted pride in our home turf and the potential of our future generations.
Geordie pride is embodied in Sir John Hall, who in March confirmed that he is backing my campaign. From Ashington mining family to turning around Newcastle United, Sir John remains impassioned about the battles we must fight to get to the top.
Like Sir John, I am local to the core. I was born in Gosforth and my family has been in Newcastle for four generations, with a strong tradition of public service. My grandfather was an independent Newcastle city councillor, and my father was a magistrate, school governor and first chair of Freeman Hospitals Trust. My wife Kate is a consultant dermatologist at Royal Victoria Infirmary — we have four teenage boys. We like nothing more than fish n’ chips along the Fish Quay or mountain biking around Kielder.
I know voters share my deep-rooted pride in our home turf and for the potential of our future generations. We need ideas, energy and a region fit for the next industrial revolution. I stand to be counted.