Jamie Driscoll has promised to end unemployment in the North East, as the race to be elected the region’s new mayor hots up.

A Labour selection contest to choose the party’s candidate to stand in a mayoral election next year, following the agreement of a new £4bn devolution deal, kicks off today.

Mr Driscoll, who is currently Labour’s mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, will compete with Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness for the candidacy and will officially launch his campaign this afternoon.

Ahead of an event in Sunderland on Friday afternoon, where he will be endorsed by RMT union chief Mick Lynch and city council leader Graeme Miller, Mr Driscoll has pledged full employment under his leadership.

The new mayor, who will be elected next May, will govern a vast North East Mayoral Combined Authority covering the seven council areas of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and County Durham.

And the Labour selection race this summer, the winner of which will be the heavy favourite to become the mayor, presents an intriguing battle between opposing party factions.

While Ms McGuinness is closely aligned to Sir Keir Starmer, her left-wing opponent is a man who has been described as the “last Corbynista in power”.

Mr Driscoll will tell party members in Sunderland today that he will “end unemployment by creating thousands of green jobs and building a Total Transport Network for the North East”, promising to “write a positive new story for our beautiful part of the world”.

Asked if such a goal could truly be delivered, after a report earlier this year found that the unemployment rate in the North East is three times worse than official figures say, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “What full employment means is a secure, well-paid job for everyone who wants one. That means more job creation, it means more access to training for workers, it means a better transport system so people can access the jobs from wherever they live.

“There will always be frictional unemployment where people are between jobs for a month or two or after leaving education. But what we can eliminate is mismatch unemployment, where there are jobs available but people’s skills or life circumstances don’t match what employers need. For example, I know young people in Blyth who have had to turn down jobs in the Team Valley because the public transport couldn’t get them there.”

Mr Driscoll said he would establish a £500m fund to support start-up businesses and has also promised free public transport for under-18s – though he accepted that major transport reform such as taking public control of the bus network, restoring the Leamside Line, and extending the Tyne and Wear Metro will take some years to come to fruition.

Asked if he would be able to unite his party in the North East if he prevails in the selection contest, Mr Driscoll said: “I’m sure there will be lots of candidates from lots of parties. But I am the only person who has actually done this job.

“Running a region requires a lot of different skills and elections are won on economic competence – my track record speaks for itself. 5,000 jobs created in just four years despite all the economic chaos we have gone through.”

While the North of Tyne Combined Authority says it has created 5,049 jobs across Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland since it was established in 2019, figures from late 2022 showed that the number actually delivered so far was just over 1,000 – with the remainder being in the pipeline.

Ms McGuinness announced her candidacy in January, setting up the clash with Mr Driscoll that political insiders had been expecting for some time, and is also expected to officially launch her campaign in the coming days.

The police commissioner has so far gained endorsements from prominent Labour MPs including Sharon Hodgson, Bridget Philipson, and Catherine McKinnell, as well as Great North Run founder Sir Brendan Foster.

She has promised a “relentless focus on ending child poverty” if she becomes mayor and has also pledged to take control over public transport.

The former Newcastle councillor said in January: “When you hear the media or people in Westminster talk about the North, they constantly look to Manchester. We have sat back and watched as Manchester got on with the job. Manchester has become the de facto voice of the North, and I won’t stand for that any longer. 

“We need a mayor who is both proud of our region and prepared to be bold in their ambition.” 

The results of a public consultation on the new devolution deal are due to be published imminently, before being considered by the region’s councils and a report sent to the Government.

The deal, which Michael Gove came to Gateshead to sign in January, includes a £48m-per-year investment fund which has been hailed as the most generous in England.

However, the devolution deal has been criticised by some, including Lib Dem and independent councillors in Northumberland, as “undemocratic” and “dishonest”.