Dealing with the SSI closure, helping the long-term unemployed and bringing more high-skilled businesses to the Tees Valley should be top priorities for the new mayor, says Andrew Carter, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Cities

TODAY (Thursday, May 4) the Tees Valley will join places such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in electing the UK’s first ever metro mayors. With new powers over housing, transport and education, and with the Government committing £15m extra investment to the city region each year for the next three decades, it’s clear that the new Tees Valley mayor will have the status and funding needed to make a big difference to the lives of people across the area.

However, the mayor will also face many challenges when he or she is announced as the winning candidate today, including acting on their campaign pledges, preparing the Tees Valley for Brexit, and establishing the new mayoral office in the region’s political landscape. To make a success of the role, it’s vital that the mayor acts quickly to address the biggest issues that the city region faces.

Handily for the four mayoral candidates standing in the Tees Valley election, the think tank Centre for Cities has published a report highlighting the three top political issues the new mayor must address to hit the ground running from day one.

Number one on our list is urgently dealing with the continuing impact of the SSI steelworks closure in 2015, which caused a major economic shock for the area, resulting in the loss of around 3,000 jobs. While progress has been made by national and local government in helping many of the people affected back into work, there is still much to be done to support those who are yet to go back into employment.

In particular, the mayor should work closely with central Government, local councillors and businesses to provide opportunities for those people to retrain, and to help them access other jobs across the city region. Obviously the results will take a while to be felt, but signalling their intention to address these problems from day one will be crucial in helping those affected by the SSI closure, and will also help the new mayor win trust and support across the city region.

However, when it comes to unemployment, the new mayor must not only focus on the fallout from the steelworks closure – they must also address the persistent problem of high long-term unemployment in the city region, which is our second big priority. Indeed, the share of local residents in the Tees Valley receiving employment benefits is more than twice the national average, while youth employment is nearly three times higher than then national level.

To deal with this problem, the new mayor must bring together all the different agencies which support unemployed people to address the various social, health and economic factors that prevent them from working. This has been done successfully in Greater Manchester through the Working Well programme, which offers a joined-up approach to supporting unemployed people, by helping them to overcome the different obstacles they face in getting back into the workplace. The new Tees Valley mayor should learn from the experiences of this programme and consider how they might be applied in the local area.

The impact of the SSI closure highlights the third big issue which the metro mayor has to address – attracting more high-skilled, high paying businesses and jobs to the region across a range of industries, not just manufacturing. Our research shows that these kinds of businesses typically prefer to locate in vibrant city centres, but Middlesbrough city centre is currently punching below its weight in attracting these kinds of firms. Across the Tees Valley, about 11 per cent of jobs are in high-skilled firms, which is less than the national average (14 per cent).

This is also reflected in the low average wages across the city region, which at £456 per week are £69 less than the national average. To attract better paying businesses and jobs, the new mayor should invest in improving the centre of Middlesbrough, to make it a better place for businesses to locate and create jobs in. This will be critical in boosting employment and wages for people across the whole city region, both now and in the future.

There’s a lot at stake for the new mayor, and showing that they mean business from day one will not only be vital in building trust with local people across the Tees Valley – it will also be crucial in achieving their vision for the city-region and securing the long-term future of the mayoral office.

The four candidates in today's election are: Sue Jeffrey (Labour); Chris Foote Wood (Liberal Democrat); Ben Houchen (Conservative); John Tennant (UKIP)