Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has opened up about his future career plans - and says he would probably turn down the chance to be an MP.

Speaking exclusively to The Northern Echo's BusinessIQ magazine, he told me that if the Prime Minister rang him with the offer of a seat he would say no and explain that "at the moment the question is where am I best effecting change – and it’s here."

In a wide-ranging interview in the middle of so much change in the region, the Mayor talked about his future in "the best job I will ever do", his determination when he a elected to change the way local politics was done with his strategy of "build the plan, get government buy-in, get the money"  and how long days and huge projects means he finds it impossible to switch off.

In looking at hs successes, he praises his Combined Authority team who are in the engine room as he steers the ship.

Read more: Get the full exclusive version of this interview here

“It's always my mug on the front of a newspaper but there are a large number of unsung heroes in this organisation and the success of the region isn't developed on one person’s shoulders," he told me.

It's a group of actual Teessiders as well, which is one of the key things I wanted when we set up the Combined Authority. They are passionate people who I can honestly say work as hard as I do and that's what you need to get these things done.

“It's really pleasing to see that irrespective of whether I'm here in three years time or seven years time or whenever it is that I lose an election the organisation is safe long beyond my tenure with the personnel that we've got here.”

But what happens to him next is important. He has given both answers at various stages – that he will compete for a third term in 2024 and that he will look at vacancies higher up the political spectrum. The quandary is where will the country’s most popular Tory have the most effect for this region – staying at street level for another four years to see things through or as an MP working with a new Tees Valley Mayor?

His response is candid.

“This is probably the best job I will ever do and you do feel privileged to have the opportunity to affect the area that I’ve been raised in and live in.

“I don't particularly want to leave Teesside. If I’m walking down a Middlesbrough street in 15 years time I want to know that I’ve had a positive impact in the area.

“You also want to be able to walk down the street and people not come up to you and say, well, the airport was a waste of money and that was a white elephant and this didn't happen Ben – you said that was going to happen.

“I think any politician would be lying if they told you they didn't get into politics to potentially, in a utopian world, become the Prime Minister, but very few people in this world become a Prime Minister, so I'm in a much better place than any backbench MP.

“So why would I trade that off to become a backbench MP with the 0.001% chance you might become a Prime Minister in ten years? You kind of think well, I'm already having a major impact.”

It may not be much of a choice. If Boris picks up the phone and calls he will answer it.

“If Rishi decided he'd had enough, he's got through Covid, delivered furlough, rebalanced the books in the spending review and he thinks I'm going to move back to Yorkshire and I'm going to spend more time in California with my wife and family.

I'm going to step down as MP for Richmond and then the party said ‘Ben, do you want to become the MP for Richmond?’

“I would not take that position if somebody said to me I could be the MP for Richmond for the rest of my life, but that was it. Because being an MP is just a means to an end, isn't it?

“It's about effecting change, so at the moment the question is where am I best affecting change – and it’s here."


Read the full exclusive interview here where Ben Houchen talks about:

  • The "huge amount of work" he still needs to do
  • His anger at the political stagnation he found: "Nobody had been bothered to put the work in to be able to get the money."
  • What he spends 95% of all his time on
  • Why "Levelling Up is going to take probably a couple of decades to do properly"

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