This week, one year ago, I was fortunate enough to be elected as the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley.
It was an honour of a lifetime. A privilege to represent this great area of ours.
An area where I was born, grew up, went to school, got my first job, and where I found the love of my life - my wife Rachel.
This area - whether you call it Durham, North Yorkshire, Cleveland, Teesside or Tees Valley … it’s in our blood.
It’s our home.
And I couldn’t be prouder to stand here today, one year on, as your Mayor.
But my election wasn’t day zero.
While I am the first person to hold this office, I am not responsible for creating it.
We’re here because of 20 years of collaboration between MPs, local authorities, businesses, and central government.
We’re here because the leaders of our local councils put aside party-politics and worked with our government to secure what we have today.
We’re here because James Wharton, the former Northern Powerhouse Minister, demanded the Tees Valley had its own deal - not for us to get sucked into Newcastle.
We’re here because Greg Clark - our Teessider in Whitehall - put devolution right at the heart of government thinking.
From our City Deal to the Devolution Deal, he’s been with us from start to finish.
And we’re here because of the dedication of our Local Enterprise Partnership. A public-private collaboration to be reckoned with.
Sandy Anderson, Stephen Catchpole, Paul Booth, Linda Edworthy, Neil Kenley, Andrew Lewis - and so many more. They are the quiet driving force of devolution in our area.
They know, just as we do, that the best answers for local people will come from local people.
They’re the unsung heroes in Tees Valley’s story. And we should be forever grateful for their work.
So let’s give them a round of applause.
Set the scene
Today I want to talk about our record of delivery, and our promise of more.
It’s record of job creation, growth and investment.
A record of positivity and optimism.
But also a promise of a better future.
A promise that the Tees Valley will stand tall again.
A promise that our best days lie ahead.
What we are achieving together over at the South Tees Development Corporation site embodies this promise.
Launched last year by the Prime Minister, this is the first Mayoral Development Corporation outside of Greater London.
A locally-led board, chaired by me, and accountable to the people.
Even as locals, I don’t think many fully appreciate the sheer scale of this project.
4,500 acres of brownfield land. 6 times the size of the City of London.
This is the single biggest regeneration opportunity in the UK right now.
Over 100 expressions of interest from global companies who want to base themselves here.
Our plan to deliver 20,000 new jobs over the next two decades.
It is a site alive with opportunity.
We have built the foundations of something special, but challenges do remain.
Last week we took the next step to secure ownership of the land. Compulsory purchase proceedings.
This is an important step in taking back control of the site, and to give it back to the people.
But this is very much Plan B. It would be wrong for us not to plan for all eventualities.
So later this month, in parallel, I’ll be travelling to Thailand to meet with the banks who own the SSI land.
I’m confident we’ll reach an agreement that works for the taxpayer, and will allow us to start building on the site as soon as possible.
But think of it this way…
Thanks to the Chancellor’s commitment of £123 million last year - we’ve got the cash.
Thanks to our Devolution Deal - we’ve got the powers.
Thanks to Simon Clarke MP and his colleagues - we have government on our side.
We have businesses lining up to invest.
So getting hold of the land is the final piece of the jigsaw.
And I have every confidence we will find a solution that works very soon.
But let’s look at what’s on the horizon.
We will soon see the first announcement of private investment on this site since the South Tees Development Corporation was written into statute.
A multi-billion pound energy plant.
Thousands of jobs will be created.
Many more in the supply chain.
This is a project of national significance.
But it won’t happen overnight.
Trust me, if there was just one lever I could pull, I’d pull it.
This this will take time. What we are doing will all take time.
But it will be worth the wait.
SSI Task Force
But we can’t talk about the Development Corporation without mentioning the major reason for it in the first place. 2,000 reasons in fact.
2,000 men and women who lost their livelihoods on that fateful day in 2015.
An end to 170 years of steelmaking on Teesside.
I remember when the news broke. We all do.
I pray that the people of Teesside never have to ensure such a seismic shock ever again.
So two and a half years on, I want us to take a moment to recognise what has been achieved by the SSI Taskforce, chaired by Amanda Skelton. Rightly awarded an OBE last year.
98 per cent of those who lost their jobs are back in work.
300 new start-ups supported.
23,700 training courses funded.
£50 million invested.
These aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet – these are real poeple, real families and real communities.
While many have found a new path in life following SSI, we owe it to the former workers, their families and the rest of the Tees Valley to make a success of the South Tees Development Corporation.
Because at the end of the day, local people will ultimately judge us all on whether we have a real long-term plan to deal with low pay, in-work poverty and low productivity.
this all starts with creating and attracting more decent jobs. Not just on the Development Corporation site, but across the Tees Valley.
That’s why I have, and always will, put job creation front and centre of everything I do.
Every single job created means more people are given the security of a pay cheque at the end each month, meaning they can provide for themselves and their families.
That’s why we need to back the innovators, the job creators, the entrepreneurs and the risk takers.
Private businesses - they’re the engine of our economy. They’re the wealth-creators.
They are the ones investing, employing, training and exporting.
We need to be on the side of those who want to crack on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves, their children and their communities.
So I say to those people today – what we’re doing is all about you.
Road and rail infrastructure fit for purpose.
And renewed pride in our area.
Look at our record of delivery on investment.
We ploughed £51million into projects last year, supporting the creation of 4,000 new jobs.
And this year, we have plans to double that to £104million.
Look at our record of delivery on securing new funds from government.
£123 million to kick-start work on the Development Corporation site.
£59 million to transform local transport connectivity.
£13 million to unlock sustainable housing in Stockton and Darlington.
£8 million for three new pinch point road schemes.
…and that’s just in one year.
It’s all well and good for politicians to splash the cash. But it’s about what that investment is doing.
Look at the optimism, confidence and positivity we’re seeing from our businesses.
Companies are coming from all over the world to invest and create jobs here.
That’s not happened by accident.
We’re used to talking a lot about fabricating the steel for the Sydney Harbour bridge.
‘Every metropolis came from Ironopolis’.
Too right. We should be proud of our industrial heritage.
But I want to make our past relevant to our future.
Now our businesses are…
Welding the parts to fit on NASA’s space shuttle.
Creating microchips for Sebastian Vettel’s Formula One steering wheel
Designing chart-topping Xbox games.
And there’s even a dark matter lab in Redcar!
It’s not flat caps, whippets and smog up here.
People from across the country are starting to look at the Tees Valley in a different light.
They see what we’re doing. They see what we’re building here. We’re changing perceptions.
We have the ear of government.
We’re punching above our weight.
Because in the end it all comes down to where the power lies.
Who makes the decisions? Who governs?
It’s time to face facts.
For too long, our country has been too centralised. Too London-centric.
People have felt too remote from decisions that affect them.
And this powerlessness has contributed so much to the public’s apathy towards politics and politicians.
The belief we no longer control our destiny; that voting changes nothing.
But we’re challenging this. There is a different way.
Devolution has brought power closer to the people.
Having a Mayor means we’re at the top table, sitting side-by-side with London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
Not Newcastle. Not Leeds. But us, the Tees Valley. We in this room.
Having a Mayor - whoever it is - means we’re getting a larger slice of the cake.
There are doors open to us that have never been open before.
And it’s paying dividends.
But we can’t stop there.
The next few years will be critical for our country.
Brexit is the single biggest issue facing us for a generation.
Whether you voted Leave or Remain, we need to look to the future and at the opportunities that are ahead.
I’ve spoken a lot about a Free Port for Teesside, but it’s so much more than that.
There is grit and a natural optimism in places like ours when it comes to Britain’s place in the world.
From the days of Captain Cook, we are and always have been an open, outward-looking part of the world, ready and willing to embrace new opportunities.
That’s why we need to get Brexit right, and I have every faith in our government’s ability to deliver.
But that shouldn’t mean everything else grinds to a halt.
Yes, we must take back control from Brussels to Westminster, but also from Downing Street to our streets.
So my message to government today is:
Listen to us. Trust us. Keep putting your faith in local people and local decision-making.
Give us the powers. Give us the responsibility. Give us the tools we need to prove devolution works.
Let us prove to you, and to ourselves, that we can do it.
That the Tees Valley can do it.
But today isn’t all about patting ourselves on the back.
We’ve hit the ground running, but there’s more to do.
So today, I’m going to announce a few things.
Firstly, two new initiatives that are very close to my heart. Both as a former business owner, and the husband of a deputy headteacher at a local school.
Firstly, supporting our small businesses is a no-brainer. They’re the lifeblood of our economy.
I know how hard it is to get the start-up capital required to build a company from scratch.
I know the sleepless nights. The risks you take. The cashflow issues. Getting into the black.
That’s why today I’m pleased to announce a new £13 million access to finance fund, to back our job-creators, innovators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers.
This will be a new flexible fund. Designed by local people, for local businesses.
They’re powering up the Northern Powerhouse. And we are on their side.
But it’s all well and good supporting businesses and business growth, but if we don’t train local people then we’ve fallen at the first hurdle.
We need to inspire kids and arm them with the skills and the confidence for the jobs of tomorrow.
So from September this year, we will kick-start a new, fully-integrated careers service - Tees Valley Careers dot com.
This £3 million initiative will see every secondary school and college in the area linked up with local businesses to shape and deliver proper careers education.
We have set ourselves a target to get 1,000 businesses engaging with 11-18-year-olds to directly inform them of job offerings and career opportunities, with each child receiving seven meaningful employer engagements.
We are going above and beyond to do everything possible to equip our young people with the skills they need to flourish, and provide businesses with the expertise they need to grow.
We all know how deeply problematic the old Connexions service was.
It was built on flawed thinking, business input was minimal, and it alienated schools.
The advice given was not up to scratch - and young people suffered for it.
Our approach will be different.
We think what we’re planning is the first of its kind in the UK.
We won’t be replicating existing work, we’ll be complementing it.
We’ll be aligning school careers and enterprise education to meet our local business needs and skills demand.
And we’ll ensure young people know about the opportunities available in our area.
We can’t sit back and watch thousands of young people leave our region, never to return.
Investing in home-grown talent is a priority – and it starts with proper careers education.
Here’s a short video about what we have planned.
I’ve spoken a lot this morning about our newfound optimism.
Punching above our weight in government.
But I also want to talk about our place in the world. Tees Valley as a global brand.
At the election I promised to launch a Mayoral trade mission programme to sell Teesside to the world - and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
In two weeks’ time, I’ll be leading a delegation of Teesside businesses to Japan and South Korea.
Two countries with a significant footprint in our region.
From Nifco, Lucite and Lotte Chemicals, to Samsung, Fujifilm and Nissan - these are businesses investing, employing, training and exporting.
Right here. Right now.
But look at our companies over there - from Bulkhaul to PD Ports - we’re making our mark in east Asia too.
Working with the Department for International Trade, we’ll be heading out there, confident in ourselves, opening doors, closing deals, and building relationships.
This will be first of many opportunities to bang the drum for the Tees Valley on the global stage.
Because if we don’t, nobody else will.
A promise of more
But it’s easy when you’ve been Mayor for a year to fall into the trap of defending your record, and standing for the status quo.
Not me. We’ve made some good progress, but the world doesn’t stand still.
So this is my promise of more.
This year, in Hartlepool, we’ll be signing off investment for a new Elwick bypass, unlocking land for sustainable development.
We’ll also commit to phase two of our plans to revitalise Church Street in the town, building new modern workspace and an incubation facility for creative start-ups.
In Middlesbrough, we’ll drive forward the regeneration of Gresham, working with Teesside University and our local pension fund to bring forward new student accomodation and retail space.
This is a site that has stood vacant for too long. Now we’re stepping in to get the job done.
We’ll also back Boho Next Generation – new space for digital scale-ups looking for quality office space in the town.
We’ve aleady committed over £100,000 to develop plans, but we’ll look to make a further financial contribution this year.
In Darlington, we are working with Network Rail and the Department for Transport to completely redevelop the station.
This is a project of national significance to relieve pressures on the East Coast Main Line, and open up capacity on the local line too.
It’s an enormous project, but today I am pleased to announce that I am willing to commit £25 million from the £59 million devolved to us from Government last year to kick start work on the station as soon as possible.
Enough of the talk, enough of the pretty pictures. The people want us to deliver this. And we will.
These are just some of the projects we’ll be supporting this year.
Projects that will deliver real jobs and prosperity for people across the Tees Valley.
In the months and years ahead, we’ll continue to secure more money, powers and responsibility from central government.
We will finance start-ups, scale-ups and invest in home-grown talent.
We will promote proper apprenticeships, not soft-courses.
We will promote Tees Valley to the world.
And we will see our airport fly again.
Which brings me onto my next announcement.
As you will know, I made a bold election pledge last year.
I promised to the people of the Tees Valley that our airport should be run by the people, for the people.
Bringing Teesside Airport back into public ownership.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve had a series of informal discussions with Peel Airports.
It has been tough going, and people rightly wonder if I can deliver this.
But I am pleased to say those discussions are now entering a more advanced stage.
I can today confirm that a strict Non-Disclosure Agreement has been signed between my office and Peel Group.
We will be discussing future ownership. And we both want a resolution that will safeguard the future of the Airport.
This is a welcome development, but there’s more.
I am also pleased to announce that a separate NDA has been signed with a well-established airport operator who is interested in partnering with me as we move forward.
I really wish I could say more, and I hope to in due course, but what is clear is we’re moving in the right direction.
We’re only one year in, but we should be proud of the start we have made together.
The greatest enemy to progress is complacency.
To coast when we should be decisive.
Those were the clear instructions I was given by the people 12 months ago.
That’s the job I’ve been asked to do.
So my message to you today is ‘we’re on the up and we’re with you.’
To the school leaver looking for their first apprenticeship – we are with you.
To the businesses struggling to get access to finance because the banks have turned you away - we are with you.
To the graduate looking to find a decent job in our area - we are with you.
To the young person struggling with career options - we are with you.
This is our record of delivery and our promise of more.
Thank you for being part of it.