SINCE day one in my role as Tees Valley Mayor, I have pledged to back the brilliant businesses that call our region their home.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, accounting for more than 99 per cent of all businesses in the region and supporting tens of thousands of jobs.

I visit them every week and I hear their stories – stories of success, setbacks, timing, determination and funding issues. I recently visited Hush Digital in Darlington, for example, one company going from strength to strength.

When I was running to be mayor, I said I would be the mayor that backs our amazing local firms. To further help the entrepreneurs, job creators and innovators, I’ve announced details of a new £35m investment to help our businesses grow and thrive. This includes a £20m Tees Valley Business Fund, specifically designed to support businesses with grants and repayable finance to help them grow. This is the biggest investment of its type in the region and delivers on a key manifesto promise.

The new fund will be a user-friendly, one-stop shop for business support to help our companies invest, grow and create the high-quality jobs, well-paid jobs for local people. Businesses will be able to access the support from January 2020.

Good public transport links are vital to the success of our companies and our people. That’s why I have a plan that will see £256.7m invested in transport projects over the next ten years that will make it easier and faster for people and businesses to move around our region.

For people who may live in more rural and isolated communities, I’m launching a three-year pilot for a new “Uber-style” demand-responsive bus service. This will cover rural areas of Darlington, Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland and will allow local people to book a journey in advance on either a smartphone app, via a website or over the telephone.

It will then match passengers travelling in the same direction and schedule vehicles in real-time to find the best route for their trip.

The service will use small, high-quality minibuses and, unlike a traditional bus service, there are no fixed routes – important when not all of our residents live on or near bus routes. Instead journeys are determined by where passengers want to go within a predefined geographical area.

This will also serve Teesside International Airport, giving passengers even more options to travel to and from their regional airport. They could be picked up on their doorstep and end up at more than 200 destinations around the world – giving them almost literally a door-to-door service.

It isn’t just creating transport links that will help the region grow – it’s also vital everyone living here has access to the infrastructure already in place. For too long, Billingham politicians and officials failed to improve its station by installing disabled access. So I’ve stepped in and will be providing £1m to make sure this changes.

It’s not a big and flashy announcement, true, but frequently some of the smallest changes make the biggest impact on the quality of life of local people.

By working to boost our businesses and transform our transport, I’m helping make a Tees Valley that works in the interests of everyone.