You’re the first mayor for the North of Tyne: how the hell is this going to work, Jamie?

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Mayor-Driscoll
Jamie Driscoll's acceptance speech. . . but where does he go from here?

One month ago, Labour left-winger Jamie Driscoll was elected the inaugural Mayor of North of Tyne, heading a combined authority of Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside with the promise of £600m over the next 30 years to create 10,000 jobs and boosting the local economy by over £1bn. Without a devolved mayor that money would not have been available . . . still, COLIN WAKELING has his doubts, expressed in this open letter to Mayor Driscoll

Dear Mr Driscoll,
Upon reading the manifesto produced to promote your successful bid to become first Mayor of North of Tyne I am at a loss to appreciate how your election will make a positive impact on life up here in rural north Northumberland, an area much loved and, for reasons a visit would make obvious, known to many as ‘Godzone’.

I could find no direct references to agriculture, fishing or tourism, industries on which many livelihoods in this area depend, apart from some sketchy mentions of the service sector.

Do you have any proposals to ‘future-proof’ struggling rural communities where basic services are increasingly under threat from the closure of post offices, banks, shops and pubs?  What will you do to ensure universal access to high speed broadband without which rural businesses will struggle to survive?

You recognise that our transport infrastructure lags behind the rest of the UK; that lack of transport links increases loneliness and isolation; and that in this area there is little alternative to the car if residents are to maintain any realistic degree of connectivity.  So, I eagerly await your proposals for on-demand transport.  With plenty of working examples in the UK and across Europe, tangible plans should not take long to frame and implement.

What about the rest of your transport wish list?  Realistically, how many minutes can be shaved from rail journeys to Edinburgh and London?  Could the potential time-saving justify the cost?   Might it not be better achieved by sacrificing intermediate Northumberland stops to speed up inter-city journey times?  You make no mention of the possible re-opening of Belford Station, nor the reintroduction of stopping services on the line.

Where will the money for your many schemes come from?  By your reckoning, a Peoples’ Bank would cost some £21 million to establish, with its CEO probably pocketing a goodly six-figure salary.  How would smaller, rural communities access its services?

A community owned green energy company has a superficial attraction, but there are many similar schemes which struggle: Robin Hood Energy, which you cite, has only just turned a profit on the back of local authority loans totalling some £20 million;  Octopus has accumulated losses amounting to £10 million; Bristol Energy has racked up a cumulative £22 million deficit.  Funding like this has to come from somewhere. 

I also hope you appreciate that the majority of rural dwellers have to rely on coal, oil or LPG – none of which are subject to price caps – to heat their homes.  What will you do for them?

You pledge to recruit (presumably well paid?) staff to implement your programme – Procurement Framework, Climate Change Liaison Group, Food Waste Strategy, Transport Studies, Careers Advisers, Environmental Educators, Equalities Unit, Land Purchase, Export Advisers, Peoples’ Bank, Community Energy – and, of course, a Communications Team to trumpet how well you’re doing.

At a time when local councils are struggling to fund basic services, the cost of your office must surely either come from savings elsewhere or a hike in local taxation.    

It seems significant that you will be based right in the centre of Newcastle.  Many of us in Godzone see even Morpeth as too remote from our concerns.  Newcastle is even further away.  How many of your staff will make more than an occasional token 120 mile round trek to the far flung reaches of your ‘empire’, far from the comfort zones of their air conditioned offices? 

Your focus appears to be principally on the urban core of the region.  You may have received devolved powers from Whitehall – and the jury is still out on how meaningful these will turn out to be – but you certainly do not seem to be devolving much to the rest of us, except, perhaps, responsibility for funding your projects.

I can find aspirations a-plenty in your manifesto, much politically driven but seemingly without an eye to economic reality and the area’s diverse community needs.

Perhaps you will be able to tell us when you will hold the first of your face-to-face events in this area, at which, no doubt, you will enlighten us on the benefits we can expect to receive from your mayoralty.

The editor of this Voice of the North website has promised me it will happily grant right of response should you wish to start the ball rolling.

Yours,
Colin Wakeling

2 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent questions Colin, but they needed to be asked before the election, but of course we didn’t have the chance to meet any candidates here!

  2. Totally concur with Maurice, and excellent work Colin! I’ll add! It is typical of the ‘political’ infrastructure we have to live with on a day to day basis!
    One has to first ask the question though, why we would have a mayor that lords over both rural and urban areas, there is no way they (no matter which side of the fence they sit!) cado either equal justice! Think on this too, are mayors supposed to be ‘NON POLITICAL’!
    Yet again we have something forced on us by central government! You’ll all remember the last fiasco, the one where we were told the local councils were to be removed and be taken under the umbrella of various offerings of split/combined councils! We were asked to vote for the option we preferred, whether it be unitary, split rural & urban, and a couple of others I can’t remember! The vote in the rural North Northumberland was overwhelmingly for a split rural and urban council, the most obvious way to go considering the huge difference between the areas. The then outgoing County Council didn’t like the result and asked the home office to intervene. Of course they sided with the council and we no have a unitary council! One that does not know how to handle problems in the rural areas, evident by the state of the roads, footpaths, rights of ways, we don’t even have a viable police force up here any more! Try ringing 111 here and you’ll get Lothian and Borders, press the buttons to get Northumbria Police, tell them our postcode and they tell you to dial again as we need the Scottish Police! All of that takes a good few minutes of valuable time, just hope you don’t need to dial 999! The result is the same, no instantaneous access to any of the emergency services!!! We are on our own up here, and as always, we have to look out for each other and fend for ourselves!!!
    Something else central government forced on us is the EU! What I hear you say, but it is correct! We only voted to join the Common Market, nothing else!!
    So the question is mr Mayor, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT, with your 600M that we will never see anything of!

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