Ray Mallon, the directly elected Mayor of Middlesbrough, expands his weekly column to issue a vital and heartfelt rallying cry.

I AM a Teessider. Okay, it may not have quite the significance of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” declaration, but hopefully it will allay any doubts.

To most people, Teesside is the industrial conurbation of Redcar, Middlesbrough and Stockton. The name conjures up pride in the achievements of our forefathers who built up the area so that its steel and science influenced the four corners of the globe.

Teesside remains a powerhouse in 21st Century industry. It is a name to be proud of. It is one I will continue to use to describe where I come from, and no one will ever take it away from me.

But Teesside is not a suitable name to call an organisation representing 640,000 people from the economic area that comprises those three Teesside towns, plus Hartlepool and Darlington.

Darlington is not and never will be part of Teesside. It will not be bullied into becoming so. Like Hartlepool and Teesside, it has its own proud and distinct heritage.

This identity debate has arisen because the Government is changing the way it allocates millions of pounds of funding to the regions of the UK. Previously, money for big schemes such as housing, transport and economic development would go to a Regional Development Agency (RDA) – in our case, One North East based in Newcastle. The agency would then allocate money to different parts of the North- East.

The new Government believes RDAs were too big. It prefers a more localised approach. It wants organisations to represent clearlydefined economic areas and to have a clear development strategy.

Known as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), these new organisations will be responsible for decisions on transport, planning and housing, infrastructure, employment and enterprise and supporting the transition to the low carbon, hi-tech economy that holds the key to our area’s future prosperity.

The LEP will be our voice, telling government about our skills and potential, our appetite for innovation and our need for investment. The competition for that investment is going to be keener than ever. Our message must be clear and unequivocal.

Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU) is the name given to the partnership comprising the five councils of Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Hartlepool.

It is made up of the council leaders and leading figures from the private and voluntary sector.

TVU has applied to be our LEP. It will learn in September if its bid has been successful.

The five boroughs have different centres of population with individual histories. But they share a modern economy: a transport network, travel-to-work patterns, shopping and business networks.

It is the appropriate, indeed the only logical, framework for the LEP bid.

Pitch it smaller and it will be too weak to be heard. Pitch it bigger and you will create a regional partnership that will not do justice to the specific needs of this area.

Darlington and Hartlepool are absolutely essential to this partnership because of the shared economic and transport links. Stuart Drummond, the elected mayor of Hartlepool, and John Williams, the leader of Darlington Borough Council, are men I respect and who have a significant contribution to make to this partnership, as do the private and voluntary sectors within those towns.

Teesside cannot go it alone without them. I will fight any suggestion that we should.

All five councils are agreed that TVU is our best chance of bringing major Government funding direct to our doors to help us secure the local economy for the next generation and beyond.

For the first time in living memory, the councils have harmony. They share a strategic aim with the majority of the local private and voluntary sectors. We are ahead of the opposition.

The bid has gone in and we are ready to deliver.

And yet, at this crucial time, we now hear murmurings from individuals with their own agenda trying to blur the issue between identity and economic partnership. In doing so, they risk giving an impression of disunity to those outside the area. They threaten the life chances and livelihoods of those within.

This is not a game. At stake is the economic future of this area. Make no mistake, the Government will not hand over millions of pounds if it feels there is the slightest chance of petty squabbling causing delay or distraction.

I’ve never used the name Tees Valley to describe a geographical place because it means nothing to people outside the area and to many people inside.

I opposed changing the name of our airport from Teesside to Durham Tees Valley. I am proud to say I come from Teesside.

The identity of the area is not at issue and should not be confused, deliberately or otherwise, with genuine efforts to form a partnership that will benefit the whole area.

Teesside cannot go it alone as an LEP without Darlington and Hartlepool. To suggest it can is reckless and just plain wrong.

If Teesside wants to be part of an integrated regional and national transport policy, we need to co-ordinate with the road, rail and air links that Darlington offers. The move to a low-carbon economy will be led by the heavy industry on Teesside and Hartlepool, but engineering and supply businesses in Darlington will fare better if they are aligned to this transformation.

WE must recognise these common interests and respond to the economic challenges facing the five boroughs with determination, a sense of purpose and unity. We have to recognise that Tees Valley Unlimited represents a coherent, living economic unit and is the appropriate foundation on which to build our plans.

This isn’t telling someone they can’t be a proud Teessider, or indeed a proud Hartlepudlian, Stocktonian or Darlingtonian. It isn’t telling them to obliterate centuries of traditions and local ties and loyalties.

It is asking that person to recognise that the future of their town and community is part of a bigger picture. If they don’t become part of that bigger picture, they risk short-changing themselves, their family and their community.

In the past, in their different ways, all of our towns have been net exporters of talent, ideas, and innovation. We gave the world railways, bridges, ships, steel and chemicals. We should have got more back in return.

We now have chance to redress the balance.

Each of the five boroughs has their individual part to play but we also need each other’s skills, commitment and support.

The prize is a prosperity and quality of life that many communities have been denied for decades. The waiting and the debating has to stop. There is a job to do and we must not be distracted from it.