“WE need a centre forward,” says Jamie Driscoll. “We need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Mr Driscoll is the North of Tyne metro mayor and so, with Newcastle United in the bottom three of the Premier League and having failed to win this season, you might be forgiven for thinking he is talking about the Magpies’ habitually limp start to the campaign.

But Mr Driscoll is a surprisingly rare beast in the North East: an elected Labour politician.

Indeed, he’s an elected Labour politician with a growing reputation – a profile in this month’s Economist magazine notes that he’s a practical problem solver who is working alongside the Conservative government to create jobs.

Under the headline “Britain’s most powerful Corbynista”, it notes that he is on the left of the party, and so, as the party’s annual conference gets under way today, you can sense a frustration that the leader Sir Keir Starmer isn’t yet banging in the goals in a way that the blues’ charismatic striker seems to manage.

“We need someone who will say Labour will give health workers a pay rise, that Labour will make buses affordable, that Labour will guarantee we hit net zero way before 2050, that Labour will make sure everyone who wants a decent, well paid job has one – that’s what we should be doing, and yet we hear from the electorate that they don’t know what we stand for,” he says.

A complaint often heard in North East Labour circles is that, to continue the footballing analogy, Sir Keir is a very good manager but he’s not a Sheareresque striker. Whether his 14,000 word eve-of-conference message will change that perception is yet to be seen.

Mr Driscoll seems more frustrated that Labour’s goal scoring potential is being kept on the bench. Where Labour has mayors in power, in places like Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Tyneside, it’s support has held up as people see it in action.

“I have a target to create 10,000 jobs over 30 years, by now two years in, I should be on 700 but it is 4,197 with loads more to come, so that ability to create jobs is what they should be talking about: they should have me front and centre along with Steve Rotheram in Merseyside and Andy Burnham,” he says. “Instead we are spending the time trying to avoid talking about the economic realities.”

The employers he’s attracted have signed his Good Work Pledge where there are no zero hours contracts and employees receive the living wage which is considerably more than the national minimum wage.

As well as criticising his own team’s forwards, Mr Driscoll – who was born in Guisborough and grew up in Hemlington in Middlesbrough – takes the attack to the other side.

“You can’t level up with concrete,” he says. “We hear a lot about flagship policies, but what is needed is serious investment in education and skills so we can become a manufacturing and producing economy. That hasn’t happened.

“The transport system has had chronic underinvestment for decades. We are spending a lot on a route from London to Birmingham (HS2), but where’s the integrated travel programme across the north?

“HS2 would have been much better if it had started in Edinburgh, gone through Newcastle and connected us to the rest of the north and then went down. HS2 is great, but not at the expense of the North East.”

He’s also deeply critical of the forthcoming cut in Universal Credit. “You’ve got friends of the government making hundreds of millions of pounds in contracts and a chancellor with a billionaire family and they’re taking 20 quid per week out of the pockets of people who work multiple jobs to try and raise their kids,” he says.

“When people sink into that cycle of debt it destroys their mental and physical health, it destroys their kids’ life chances and we only end up having to pay for it in the end through the NHS.”

The North of Tyne is a curious beast as it covers Newcastle and Northumbria, but not Gateshead. There are 36 metro stations north of the river and 24 to the south, so a co-ordinated transport policy is difficult.

And then there’s Sunderland and County Durham which are both unmayored and are perhaps being squeezed by the mayors to the north and south of them.

“Durham is exploring the county route, that’s great, but I think we would have a stronger voice if we were together," says Mr Driscoll, who is married to a GP.

“The economic reality is the North East is a block, mountains on three sides the sea on the other, few routes in and out – we’re almost a country in our own right.”

With the Tees Valley playing its own game, it seems unlikely that the whole region will team up as one, but Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham united would be an interested side to watch.