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Hustings event places north-east businesses at centre of mayoral election

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Published on 02 April 2024

(Left to right) Reshma Begum (FSB), Aidan King, Jamie Driscoll, Rhiannon Bearne (NECC), Sir David Bell, Richard Moss, Kim McGuinness, Andrew Gray, Matt Bratton (CBI) and Guy Renner-Thompson
(Left to right) Reshma Begum (FSB), Aidan King, Jamie Driscoll, Rhiannon Bearne (NECC), Sir David Bell, Richard Moss, Kim McGuinness, Andrew Gray, Matt Bratton (CBI) and Guy Renner-Thompson

Over 200 of the region’s leading businesses and organisations heard from north-east mayoral hopefuls about their ambitions for election at an event organised by the region’s leading representative bodies yesterday (28 March).

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) brought together businesses to hear from five of the area’s candidates ahead of the important north-east mayoral election on 2 May.

The hustings, an event where all political candidates from mainstream parties are invited to outline their priorities if elected, was held at the University of Sunderland and was independently chaired and moderated by BBC Politics North Presenter Richard Moss.

The audience heard from the north-east's first mayoral election candidates Andrew Gray (Green Party); Jamie Driscoll (Independent); Aidan King (Liberal Democrat); Kim McGuinness (Labour); Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative). Reform UK candidate Paul Donaghy was unable to attend the event. 

The new political role is the result of a devolution deal for the north-east area covering the seven local authority areas of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham. It will see major funding and decision-making powers handed over from central government in Westminster.

Candidates outlined their ambitions in areas including skills, job creation, culture and the visitor economy, transport infrastructure and housing. The broad-ranging debate brought together social and economic policy concerns with the candidates agreeing on the importance of resilient communities, the role of affordable and accessible childcare as an enabler for work, as well as big ticket opportunities like the proposed Leamside Line re-connecting south of Tyne communities with an extension of the Metro system. 

They also shared their vision for the region’s economy in 2030, and the main policies they would put in place to benefit businesses and business leaders. There was robust debate around the opportunities presented by a low carbon economy, and the pace and focus on skills investment.

Candidates answered audience questions about tackling child poverty, helping businesses overcome barriers in the transition to a green economy, keeping skilled and experienced people and students in the region, and how they would support the role of the cultural, creative and visitor economy across the new geography.

The audience also asked about the role of the mayor in ensuring the business support landscape empowers entrepreneurialism and enables business growth to create a thriving business community across the north-east. There was broad support from the candidates for inclusive economic growth which recognised the diversity of the region’s business base, strengths and assets.

A spokesperson for the three organising bodies said: “The north-east hustings event was a chance for businesses to hear directly from the new north-east region’s first mayoral election candidates. 

“The business community has been a long-standing advocate for broader, deeper devolution: we know the huge opportunities in terms of power and resources that more devolution will bring. It is key that candidates understand the issues affecting the region’s business community and set strong and fair agendas that really deliver for local businesses. 

“We will continue to work together to create a stronger, fairer north-east and we look forward to working with the successful candidate to deliver economic prosperity for all.”  

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “We were very pleased to host this event ahead of the historic vote in May, which will give two million people in the north-east, including many of our staff and students, the chance to choose an elected mayor to represent their interests.  

“The mayoral hustings were an excellent opportunity for the region’s business community to ask candidates about the issues that really matter to them and their organisations. Whoever is elected mayor will play a crucial role in ensuring that the north-east of England remains globally competitive and the ideal place to host or create outstanding businesses.

“The University of Sunderland was a particularly appropriate setting for Thursday’s event, given the key role it plays in supporting the growth of a skilled workforce in the region across many areas of business. That includes film and media production – where the University’s courses are consistently ranked amongst the country’s best – in the light of the recent announcement about the ambitious Crown Works Studios project that is due to begin very soon on the banks of the River Wear.”