Labour rivals vying for the party’s nomination to be North East mayor have both made pledges on transparency, amid a controversy over corruption allegations on Teesside.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove confirmed this week that he will open an independent review into the Teesworks site in Redcar, with Labour MPs having accused Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen of wrongdoing regarding the transfer of assets to private developers.

While Mr Houchen has welcomed the investigation and insisted that there is “no corruption, wrongdoing or illegality” at what is the UK’s largest freeport, the affair has sparked questions over how robustly mayoral combined authorities in England are being scrutinised.

As campaigning kicks off in the race to be named the new North East mayor next year, a position that will hold far greater money and powers than the region currently possesses, both Kim McGuinness and Jamie Driscoll have pledged that their administrations would operate transparently.

The Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner and the existing North of Tyne mayor are battling to claim Labour’s candidacy for a mayoral election next year and become the clear favourite to be the political figurehead for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham under the area’s new £4bn devolution deal.

Ms McGuinness said: “I absolutely can assure the public that [scrutiny] will be there. Anything I do for this region is ultimately for the people here, I am fighting for the people of the region.

The Northern Echo: Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinnessNorthumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness (Image: LDRS)

“That means working together with all our local authority leaders, everybody having a seat around the table making those joint decisions and being accountable to the people that live here.

“We should all have the same goal and that is to drive forward a future for the North East, to create more jobs, to tackle child poverty, to bring more visitors here, and grow our economy – and everything we do in that mission should be transparent and we will be accountable to the public.”

In her role as PCC, Ms McGuinness has recently been questioned over her public accountability relating to major cuts to the region’s Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

Her manifesto includes plans to establish a Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC), like the South Tees Development Corporation involved with the Teesworks site, around the new combined authority area’s ports and rivers.

Mr Driscoll, who has been Labour’s mayor in the North of Tyne Combined Authority since 2019, has also spoken previously of his desire to set up an MDC at an unnamed location on Tyneside to speed up regeneration.

The Northern Echo: amie Driscoll, Labour's North of Tyne Mayor, will be standing to become the Labour candidate for North East Mayoramie Driscoll, Labour's North of Tyne Mayor, will be standing to become the Labour candidate for North East Mayor (Image: LDRS)

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Asked about what commitment he would make to transparency if he were North East mayor, he said: “Transparency is absolutely essential in politics. I claim zero expenses and that is all there for people to check on the records.

“I attend the overview and scrutiny committees, I have regular meetings with the chair and vice chair of scrutiny, I turn up to a Mayor’s Question Time where any member of the public can come and ask me questions. Every inquiry we get through our office gets answered.”

It was reported earlier this year that mayors in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands would be ordered to appear regularly in front of a committee of MPs, in exchange for enhanced ‘trailblazer’ powers that the North East is also hoping to secure under its new devolution deal.