ABOVE everything else, the job of the Tees Valley Mayor is to grow our economy and make people throughout the region better off. This is why I brought our airport back into public ownership, it is why I am working to help businesses grow and create jobs, and it is why I am investing in transport.

Recently, I revealed that the airport would be running its first full programme of holiday flights in five years. Balkan Holidays has committed to summer charter flights to Bulgaria.

We’ve also started work on the new Stobart Jet Centre, which will eventually provide excellent passenger support in Tees Valley, as it currently does at Stobart’s London Southend Airport. This is fantastic news, but there is so much more we can do to improve our region and grow the local economy. Our airport had a star-studded few days, when some of today’s top musical artists jetted in for Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Miley Cyrus, Lewis Capaldi, Craig David and Mark Ronson were among those stopping for snaps with our staff – proving it’s good enough for chart-toppers.

One idea many people have written to be about since I was elected is using local suppliers for public contracts. As a wise person once said, we have one mouth but two ears so a good leader listens twice as much as they talk, and this is definitely an idea worth listening to. To me, and I believe a lot of other people, taking into account where a company is based makes sense, what could be better value for money or more fair than supporting our local economy. Obviously it would not make sense to always buy local regardless of cost and quality, but the impact of spending our taxes in our own community should not count for nothing.

Current rules, including some imposed by the EU, seek to guarantee fairness, value and quality, but don’t allow more than a token effort to keep things local. Obviously, when we’re finally free from Brussels bureaucracy we can make changes, but until then we can still take steps to put the Tees Valley economy first. At our airport we’re committed to opportunities for local companies. When Peel owned it, accounting, audit and many other services were outsourced to Manchester. That’s not the case now, we have appointed Tait Walker in Stockton for audit services and Tindles Chartered Accountants, also of Stockton, to provide payroll. Local firm Rovin Environmental has been contracted to provide specialist waste removal services and there will be many more opportunities for local firms in the future. We’ve also extended the remit of local firm Close Protection Security to provide “ground-side” security at the airport. Clearly these excellent local companies have made competitive offers, they wouldn’t get the work if they didn’t, but because they were aware of the opportunity they were able to reply.

In Darlington and the Tees Valley we have moral responsibility to grow our local economy, as the Government has to create economic growth in the UK. While there are, in some circumstances, reasons not to buy local or British, it should be the exception rather than the rule. I believe public sector, especially local government, should have an obligation to do everything in its power to advertise tender opportunities to local firms. This is how I operate and you can expect to hear more on this in the future.