AUGUST is a month of exam results: less than a fortnight ago, young people across the Tees Valley received their GCSE results, and the week before that, many more got news of how well they did in their A Levels.

To mark GCSE results day, I returned to my old school, Conyers in Yarm, to meet the next generation who now have to make the all-important choices that will shape their future careers.

There are many routes to a successful, rewarding working life, whether it be studying A Levels, going to one of our specialist colleges, taking up an apprenticeship, training, or going to university.

Meeting these inspirational students really brought home what my job is as Tees Valley Mayor – to make sure that the next generation have good job opportunities.

This begins by making sure we’re helping to create the high-quality careers they need, and to make sure they can get ahead without the need to leave the Tees Valley.

After we leave the EU, one of the best ways of opportunities we have to do this will be through creating a Free Port on the Tees.

Just a few weeks ago, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss MP visited our region to announce that Government was going to establish up to ten Free Ports in the UK. This is something I’ve long campaigned for, and I’m grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

The Government already recognises our ambitions. During her visit, the minister said our region is “ahead of the game” with the potential for a bid to be accepted in the coming months, thanks to a “huge appetite” for the concept here.

Put simply, a Free Port would provide special freedoms to trade, attracting international investment by offering exemptions from certain operational, regulatory and customs requirements within a given area. In short, this would make it more attractive to locate new chemicals and manufacturing projects here. It would be an extra incentive for significant international investors who will either come to the Tees Valley, or take their business to another country.

I know already, thanks to our prominent place in the national debate on the topic, that Free Ports spark interest from global companies. From investors in Japan to those in the US and the Middle East, we have already started to see how a Free Port would make the UK a more appealing place to invest.

Investment means economic growth, and this means the potential for good-quality jobs, directly linked to the industries we specialise in.

There are a lot of naysayers out there, but to be clear, my proposals are neither a silver bullet for the economic challenges of post-Brexit Britain, nor are they a regulatory free-for-all designed for emerging economies.

Being free of European red tape doesn’t mean falling into an abyss. Instead, it gives us the opportunity to play by our own rules, in our own interests. It’s certainly in my interests to see our area thrive.

By planning for a prosperous and truly outward-looking Britain, with a Free Port at the centre of our region’s economy, we’ll be able to secure our future. The bright future that all of the young people I was honoured to meet over the last month so rightly deserve.