YOU can tell a lot about a man by the car he drives. But the fact that Jamie Driscoll doesn’t even own one still reveals plenty about the North Tyne Mayor.

The arrival of a few pounds of ‘lockdown luggage’ persuaded him that he needed to find his way back to full fitness - so the car went out and a combination of cycling and walking came in.

He is a member of a car club so can still use one if it is needed, but so far it hasn’t been, which has made Jamie all the more aware of the environmental benefits and how possible it is to make such a radical decision.

He’s used to those, of course, having now moved well past his second year as the first North of Tyne Mayor, elected in May 2019.

He heads up the North of Tyne Combined Authority, a partnership of Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland local authorities championing the area nationally and internationally.

Read more: Leaders accuse Government rail plans of ignoring North East

His route to such levels of political power was not always clear. After leaving school at 16, he had returned to education as a mature student to gain an engineering degree at Northumbria University, later setting up his own software development firm.

His business experience has proved invaluable, but speaking in his office at the landmark Helix campus in the heart of Newcastle, he comes across as someone who has found the role he was meant to fulfill, no matter how circuitous the route.

His approach - bold but calm and confidently argued - seems to be paying off and he is clearly enjoying the feeling that things are noticeably better than they were, with perhaps more clarity about the blueprint going forwards now that there is a collaborative structure in place.

“We are obviously a much newer combined authority than the others, and what a time it has been when we’ve had the pandemic, Brexit and everything else that goes with it. Despite that, we’ve made terrific progress,” he says.

“I’ll always look at it from the point of view of what makes the biggest difference to people - and here it’s more money in their pockets - anyone who thinks politics is all about budgets has forgotten the basics of it.

“So we have to make sure there are great well-paid and secure jobs and that people have the skills to get those jobs, making sure no one is left behind.

“One way or another, we’ve made sure the programmes that we’ve launched have all been about either creating jobs or making it easier to get jobs or helping people with skills and poverty.

“We got one target from central government, and that is to create 10,000 jobs over 30 years. So by now that works out we should be on about 833 jobs. But, we’ve got 4,400 in our pipeline, with another 2,700 safeguarded through the pandemic with firms that would have struggled, but who we have helped one way or another.

“Unlike a lot of people who claim jobs targets, ours are actual jobs that someone is in - a full time job that has only happened because of our investment.”

One example that immediately springs to his mind is TV favourite Verisure alarms.

“They looked at a lot of cities for their Centre of Excellence before bringing it to North of Tyne,” he tells me.

“I met with them when I had only been elected for a few months, and I said to them ‘what quality are these jobs? What’s the journey through the company?’

“Because what I don’t want is companies that appear somewhere and then leave - you’ve got to look after the people. And they told me they all started on the shop floor, and are now directors, so these are people who have careers looking after people.

“Then there are companies like Transmission Dynamics in Northumberland, who had reached their growth constraints, so our team sat down and asked ‘What are your problems? How can we fix it?’

“What we don’t do is the standard way which is ‘we’ve got a plan..... who wants to fit in with it?’

“In their case, it was breaking new ground for a company that has a massive export market - and we are an exporting region.

“So there’s that side of it and then it’s right down to the micro stuff, with our programme called Recovery Innovation Deal - I know the name’s not very catchy...

“But this is about working with small firms, like one on the quayside which runs cycling holidays. Like everybody in that industry, they were having Covid challenges, but they now want to double their pre-Covid turnover, so we’ve given them the investments to go and do that.”

He readily admits that this will only create two new jobs. But as well as the headline-grabbers - and there are plenty of them from offshore wind to battery Gigafactories - his job is also about the cumulative ripple of small twos and threes that are each as vital to the families who they support. If they grow here, fantastic, but if the support from Jamie and his team allows them to stay as they are, then that is a big win.

“That’s what really makes us such a richly-layered region, the small companies that can stay here and become long-term family businesses. That’s the real foundation of it and it’s a big part of what we’ve done,” he says.

His bond with the region comes from an acute awareness of the part every person plays in its success, from mums and dads working and raising their families to children at school, students, teachers, bosses, and politicians of course.

What they do and the standards they set themselves are what make the difference every day and Jamie’s ability to see how each splinter of that mosaic comes together to reveal the full picture is a key reason why there is a feeling of cohesion across the region.

Or, at least across the north of the region. With Teesside and Ben Houchen dominating the national headlines, Jamie has to stay focussed on his work, confident he is achieving more than was thought possible.

“I grew up on Teesside and I know the place inside out - I was a Boro season ticket holder for many many years and was at Eindhoven and various other European games.

“This is one region and we stand stronger as that and don’t want parts of the North East to be competing against each other. It’s not a zero sum game.

“Of course Ben and I have done work together, because there are some things that are pan North East, like transport and the East Coast main line. To be honest, I think he tends to plough his own furrow, but when we see the Treasury sending jobs to Darlington that’s good for the whole region. I’m happy with that.

“There are a lot of companies doing things there because there is a lot more development land in Teesside that there just isn’t on the Tyne because it is so highly developed. Companies landing there is good for us because they are not landing in the Netherlands or somewhere else.”

Nationally he says there are many Ministers who are “very engaging” but some departments are noticeably less aware and supportive than others. That will always be the way, the trick he is mastering is to choose his relationships with care, nurture those that will prove the most valuable and prioritise his region at every meeting.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of years, but he is clearly balancing things well, from north v south and minister v minister to home v work.

I’ve written before about how important balance is in business is and the whole North East needs our Bens and Jamies to find and exploit the balance we have here.

Certain things belong in certain parts of our region, but there is so much to share as well that would make us unstoppable.

That’s the test for both of them.


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