TODAY’S column is the hardest I have ever had to write. It follows what has been the toughest week in the careers of many of my colleagues, and one which no one should ever have to experience again.

Just 11 days ago, while working on important decommissioning work to help transform the SSI site, an extremely tragic incident took place at South Bank in which two people lost their lives. Due to the complex and challenging nature of the incident, it took longer than anyone would have liked to recover their bodies following the explosion and fires.

We owe it to these two individuals, their families, friends and colleagues to ensure that no stone is left unturned to discover what caused the incident. We will do everything we can to work with the emergency services and Health and Safety Executive to ensure that’s the case.

It is vital for our economy that we redevelop the former SSI site to create good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people, but let me be clear – not at any price!

We now need to give investigators time and space to get on with their work so that we can understand what happened so we can move forward confident that such an incident will never happen again.

When it comes to jobs in the region, I’ve never been shy of fighting the corner for local people. Rail company Hitachi, based in Newton Aycliffe, employs hundreds of people in Darlington, Stockton and the wider Tees Valley. It’s a major player in the regional supply chain, too, supporting thousands of jobs. When it benefits, we all benefit. When it loses out, we all lose out.

That’s why I was exceptionally angry to learn that the owners of the Tyne and Wear Metro were not awarding Hitachi a huge £362m contract for the construction of a new fleet of Metro trains.

You would have thought choosing between supporting the local economy, its people and sourcing the trains from just down the road or sending the work abroad would be a no brainer.

For example, when I brought Teesside International Airport back into public ownership, I pledged that it would serve not only the residents of the Tees Valley, but also the businesses. To that end, the entire airport team has worked to make sure as many local firms as possible have been appointed to provide a range of services, from auditing and payroll to waste services.

I have called upon Nexus to reconsider its position but, so far, this has fallen on deaf ears.

If we don’t help ourselves and the quality companies on our doorstep, why should we expect anyone else to?

On a more positive note, I have chosen the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority’s first official charity partner, A Way Out. The Stockton-based charity delivers services throughout the Tees Valley and County Durham aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable women, families and young people.

After meeting A Way Out’s Chief Executive Sarah McManus, I was at impressed by the contribution they are making to the region. This means my team and I will be helping to raise funds for A Way Out. There will be hands-on volunteering opportunities with the charity as well as activities help to raise its profile.