Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen is writing exclusively for The Northern Echo. Today, in the first edition of a new monthly column, he sets out what has been top of his agenda over the last few weeks

ON May 5 this year a political earthquake hit Darlington, Teesside and Hartlepool and I found myself at the centre of it.

In defiance of the pundits, and to the surprise of the local Labour establishment, a Conservative won the election for the newly created post of Tees Valley Mayor. My campaign had been well-received and I had become the first mayor of an area with an economic value of £12bn and a population of nearly three quarters of a million people.

My first few days in my new office were slightly unusual, there was an office, a telephone and a computer but no PA, no business cards, letterhead or designated staff. However, I did meet a small cohort of officers who work for the Combined Authority and are among the most dedicated and talented people I have encountered in local government. They have already established ambitious targets for job creation – 25,000 new jobs by 2020 – and some core objectives for transport; all of which I’m happy to support. They had also followed the mayoral election and were ready to get to work to help me implement the aims of my manifesto.

The briefings I received in the first week were extensive and detailed. We all have our opinions about state of our local area, but when confronted with the data from every sector, maps of every industrial site and reports about the many different funding streams and regulations it becomes quickly obvious how multi-faceted and complex our economy is. Jobs in services, public sector organisations, small business, niche manufacturing, digital and the process industry compete for the attention of policy makers.

In the first two weeks I took a tour of the area surrounding the former SSI site at Redcar and heard how the devolution deal gives me the power to formally establish a Development Corporation. Thankfully, this has already been operating in shadow form and leading figures of the business community have begun to grapple with the details needed to produce a regeneration plan. I’ll be introducing the outline plans to the public in a few months, once I have formally appointed the new board of the Development Corporation and it moves from a shadow body to a fully constituted corporation.

My first formal meeting with an external organisation was with the chairman of Peel Airports, the owners of Durham Tees Valley Airport, Robert Hough. It was friendly in tone and constructive in nature. He knows why I am unhappy at the performance of the airport and the importance I attach to making changes that will deliver a better service. I set out my objective at the election and I heard his plans, there is goodwill on both sides and we want to move forward. The meeting was constructive, but we both decided that, for the time being, it is best to maintain a confidential approach.

My first public engagement was a trip with PD Ports, seeing the unique industrial businesses using the area’s greatest natural asset – the River Tees – to access international markets and to service the North Sea energy sector. Massive opportunities exist for our fabrication businesses – the need for offshore wind equipment and the decommissioning programme for the North Sea oil field are causing me to think hard how I can use my authority as mayor to engage the Government in channelling the potential of our local industrial base.

Less than three weeks into this job I encountered another, more sombre, aspect to the role. The Manchester Arena bombing placed my opposite number in Manchester, Andy Burnham, in the unwelcome position of expressing his city’s sadness and outrage at the atrocity. I felt it necessary to express the sympathy and solidarity of Tees Valley with the people of Manchester and I pray that I never need to respond to anything as terrible in our area.

The General Election earlier this month resulted in the loss to Parliament and this area of a talented MP who negotiated the deal that allowed a mayor to be elected in Tees Valley in the first place. My sadness over James Wharton’s defeat was tempered by the fact another able and dedicated Conservative, Simon Clarke, was elected for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. James Wharton is Teessider to his core, and we should all be thankful for his service.

Those readers who follow politics closely might well agree with me that one of the most important developments following the two elections was the re-appointment of Greg Clark MP as Business Secretary. Greg’s department is at the heart of the economy and is part of the Conservative devolution agenda. Greg’s appointment provides the continuity, expertise and advocacy at the very top of Government that this area needs to make it a success.

Through this column I intend to keep the public abreast of how the various issues I’m grappling with develop. Two elections in a row was a lot to ask of people. Now the voting is done I intend to get on with the job.