ACROSS the Tees Valley, our economy is on the up. Over the past year, almost 1,000 new companies have started up, exports are up six per cent, advertised salaries are up five per cent, our A-Level results are the best in the country, and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in history.

This is all good news.

But we can’t be complacent.

Record numbers are in work providing for themselves and their families, but everyone agrees we desperately need more, higher paying jobs. At the end of the day, local people will ultimately judge me on whether I can properly tackle low pay, in-work poverty and low productivity. I have a plan, but there’s much more to do.

Firstly, we’re attracting new investors to the region, and ensuring local workers have the right skills to fill these jobs. There’s no point creating jobs if they’re not filled by local people.

Secondly, we need to do more to retain and attract highly skilled university graduates in the area. We can’t sit back and watch thousands of young people leave our region, never to return.

Keeping our graduates and skilled workers in the region means we have to have the right opportunities, but also provide an attractive environment to live in. This means we have to get things like transport and housing right, which is exactly what we’re doing.

The final piece of the jigsaw is to attract professional services firms to our area, so our manufacturers and entrepreneurs have the same quality legal advice, financial services and consultancy they could get in London, Frankfurt or Hong Kong. This year we’ve already seen leading North-East law firm Square One Law open an office in Stockton, and this month my team and I have met multinational professional services firm Deloitte to discuss a potential move into the area.

We are also going above and beyond to do everything possible to equip our young people with the skills they need to flourish, and provide businesses with the expertise they need to grow. Already we’ve launched our £3 million service, starting this September. And from 2019, we’ll take control of a £30 million annual fund to drive forward proper post-19 adult education that is tailored to local skills demand.

As Britain looks beyond the EU, we have an immense opportunity to make the most of our home grown talent right here in Tees Valley. That means building a high growth, high wage, low welfare economy that puts local workers first, and puts an end to our reliance on cheap foreign labour. This doesn’t mean we’ll be closing the door to doctors, nurses and engineers, but it does mean our companies will have to make the most of the people we have here by investing in training and technology.

By attracting new investment, bringing new professional services firms to the area, investing in skills, and making our area an attractive place to live, we’ll tackle our sluggish productivity, retain graduates, and create higher paying jobs. Nobody said this was going to be easy, but we should be proud of the start we have made together.

Ben Houchen is the Conservative directly-elected mayor of the Tees Valley