IF IT costs four men £1,300 to travel to Bournemouth by train and it costs four men £300 to travel to Bournemouth in two cars, which is the best use of council cash?

The answer is obvious, but I pose this riddle in light of the antics of a handful of mischievous people earlier this week.

I've made no secret of the fact that I believe tens of thousands of pounds can be saved through a clampdown on councillors' expenses and I have enough knowledge of the media to know that this makes me a sitting duck if I don't practise what I preach.

So it's hardly surprising a local radio station was interested when a mischievous "anonymous source" suggested that I was wasting taxpayers' cash by taking two cars to the Local Government Conference in Bournemouth.

The reality is that I decided against rail or plane travel because of the cost, and I also knew that five grown men, including a driver, plus luggage for four days, cannot fit into one car.

The solution was for the leaders of the Labour and LibDem groups and a driver to go in the council's Jaguar - and myself and the chief executive to travel in another council car - a five-year-old Ford Scorpio.

The good news is we saved taxpayers about £1,000. The bad news is I was forced to spend an hour correcting the version of events that had been told to the radio station.

The North-East Chamber of Commerce aims to promote this region and, recently, I was invited to speak to it about the Regeneration of the Tees Valley.

Beforehand, when I asked ten people what the word 'regeneration' meant, everyone spoke of industry or buildings. To me, the regeneration of an area is primarily about people. It's about people learning new skills, adopting a different outlook.

The biggest task I face as Mayor of Middlesbrough is in convincing everyone - councillors, staff and residents - that they have a vital role to play in regenerating the town.

Most people will remember the Sydney Olympics whether it was for Steve Redgrave's fifth gold medal, Cathy Freeman's remarkable success or even the spectacular fireworks that lit up the Harbour Bridge.

But the primary factor that made the Millennium Olympics so successful was the people of Sydney. For two years before the first race was run, thousands of local volunteers trained as goodwill ambassadors, giving their time for free to back up the municipal staff determined to make the Games a success.

My aim is for Middlesbrough to adopt the Sydney spirit, for everyone to work together with the common goal of making the town a better place to live. I believe it is incumbent upon elected members to lead by example and that is why I shall be introducing performance indicators, by which residents can judge whether their councillor is doing their best for the town.

The Tees Valley has enough outsiders who want to knock it without people paid from the public purse biting the hand that feeds them. If mischief is all they can offer, they should make way for someone with a more positive outlook.

Published: 05/07/2002