O N May 4, the next phase of regional devolution will take place with the election of a new mayor for the Tees Valley.

It is not a London-style mayor, with all-encompassing powers over blue light services and the NHS, but the mayor will have powers over economic development and effectively trying to create the conditions for our businesses to thrive.

Therefore, while having no vote directly, the business community have a vested interest in ensuring that whoever is elected is in no doubt of their priorities.

To that end, after a consultation process, the North East England Chamber of Commerce has produced a sevenpoint plan for the mayor as a figurehead for the Tees Valley.

SKILLS The skills agenda is consistently named by businesses as their most important issue.

The mayor has a responsibility to deliver the Tees Valley Strategic Economic Plan’s (SEP) outline and seek to attract and retain talented people, particularly graduates in the region.

The mayor should also use their position to ensure a clear and co-ordinated programme for business engagement with schools and universities building on previous expertise is delivered.

They should have a clear skills strategy for the Tees Valley, which takes account of the Apprenticeship Levy.

The mayor should seek to put in place a skills development programme benefiting supply chains and potentially training a top-quality careers service, which will utilise any opportunities presented by the Apprenticeship Levy.

Any programme should offer an easily accessible scheme for large employers for allocation of funds within their own companies and to utilise any underspend, which develops the overall economy of the Tees Valley and is beneficial to key sectors.

Early dialogue should begin with companies located in the area where decision makers sit outside the Tees Valley.

REGIONAL IMAGE While residents of the Tees Valley and the business community are aware of the advantages and opportunities, the area still has a long way to go in terms of getting the message across outside the area.

The external image of the Tees Valley is not what it should be and as the mayor will be a figurehead for the area, a proactive plan should be developed to promote the Tees Valley with the aim of improving the area’s image externally.

A positive regional image and really promoting the area is crucial to delivering many aspects of economic success.

VISITOR ECONOMY Development of a visitor economy is vital to the future of the area and there must be a clear plan, which takes account of development and activity both inside and external to the Tees Valley where there are opportunities for the area.

The mayor must be prepared to work other agencies, such as NGI and Visit Yorkshire, to ensure collaboration brings rewards and ensure the Tees Valley is not a forgotten area.

INFRASTRUCTURE Business supports the transport measures set out in the SEP and would wish to see the mayor push for funding, particular for projects such as Darlington Bank Top railway station. However, there should also be recognition that some projects, which sit outside the Tees Valley, can deliver significant strategic gains too. A mayor should not be afraid to support programmes in other areas if they will deliver significant benefits to the Tees Valley, even if it means a shortterm loss of funding to potential projects in the Tees Valley.

INWARD INVESTMENT A mayor should make it a priority to meet with key businesses and investors and be a clear point of contact for any company seeking to invest.

Early dialogue should take place with key sectors to identify potential projects and investors and an action plan delivered to understand their requirements and how the public sector and business community can work to bring investment to the Tees Valley.

LAND The mayor and Combined Authority are charged with identifying and bringing forward land for development.

Investment should be made not simply in infrastructure to access land but also infrastructure on site and key strategic sites developed to make them an attractive proposition to developers.

However, the sites identified should be of strategic importance to the Tees Valley economy and the funds not simply divided between each of the five boroughs.

BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS The Secretary of State for Brexit has signalled elected mayors will be consulted during the Brexit negotiations and this will give the Tees Valley mayor a significant role representing not just the area but the North as a whole.

The mayor should seek an early dialogue with other mayors across the Northern Powerhouse to ensure there is co-ordinated and strong representation from the North on issues such as investment, trade and a replacement for structural funds.

Case Study: TOURIST DRAW WHILE the Tees Valley may not immediately spring to mind as a destination for a short break, it is a growing sector of the economy and with new facilities being developed all the time we are seeing visitor numbers rise.

Developments such as the new Royal Naval Museum North, built around the HMS Trincomalee at Hartlepool, will be a major draw to visitors and we have to give them a good experience.

Similarly, we will see a repeat of the phenomenally successful Kynren at Auckland Castle in the summer, drawing visitors from all over the world.

However, we need to encourage them to stay a few days in the Tees Valley, which presents a challenge.

How do we ensure visitors stay overnight and spend as much as possible while they are here?

In other areas, the offer is far more co-ordinated with promotional campaigns, conference co-ordination and visitor support and a mayor will need to oversee this and be a figurehead to attract funding, special events such as the Tour de Yorkshire and look for opportunities to put the Tees Valley on the map.

Case study: STAFF RETENTION T he digital sector is one of the sectors with a great interest in attracting a skilled and talented workforce to the area.

In a fast moving environment, there is a strong career pull towards London and local companies have to work hard to ensure they attract and retain the best talent.

Visualsoft are a fast-growing e-commerce and digital marketing company, working with more than 1,000 retailers to help grow and sustain their business online.

Founded in 1998, Visualsoft now employs in excess of 200 staff at their offices in Stockton, Newcastle, London and Manchester.

In August 2016, the company announced a new recruitment drive to hire an additional 60 staff in roles including marketing, web design, account management and sales.

Employees at Visualsoft’s £2m head office in Stockton are entitled to unlimited paid holidays, and the company promotes a comprehensive benefits package including flexible working, subsidised gym membership, social games areas, and free fruit, breakfasts and protein shakes.

Companies in the sector work hard to attract and retain staff, but the new mayor will have a role to play in terms of bringing together schools, colleges, training providers and universities to ensure we have the right skills available but also to sell the area to the outside world and make it an attractive place to build a career.