Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.
As the first Mayor of the Tees Valley, I have spent the last five years putting in place my plan to bring new jobs and investment to the region. No one has been more supportive of that mission than Rishi Sunak, who has well and truly put our region on the map. Whether it is the creation of Teesside Freeport or the first ever Treasury campus outside London in Darlington, he has championed this area. As leader and Prime Minister, I trust him to go even further.
As a country, we are facing challenges on a number of fronts. The first priority of our new Prime Minister must be to tackle inflation; to fail to do so would make people poorer and create misery for millions.
People across the Tees Valley are worried about cost of living pressures, be it energy bills, fuel costs or food prices. We owe it to hardworking families to offer them reassurance and peace of mind that we will step in to help where it is needed. Sunak has done exactly that. As Chancellor, he put in place support worth up to £1,200 for the most vulnerable families. He has outlined plans to cut VAT from energy bills and he is clear that he will go further when we know how much more bills will be rising by.
To be clear, the proposals we have seen from Liz Truss do not seek to do anything for hardworking families and pensioners. The 2019 General Election will forever go down in history as the election in which we Conservatives shattered the ‘Red Wall’. But if we think we’ll hold on to all of those seats if we don’t seek to help people through these tough times, we’re woefully mistaken. We’ll be punished at the ballot box.
Rishi’s plan will help people, tackle inflation and grow the economy. He has already been clear that he will cut taxes when the time is right to do so. But, he will also make sure that our great region – whether it’s Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland or Stockton-on-Tees – is able to make the most of the great opportunities that await.
Let’s not forget that Rishi backed and believed in Brexit. He has already made a good start – from freeports, to financial services reform. But there is more to do; Rishi will reform or rip up all of the 2,4000 retained EU laws that have been carried over.
Of course, Rishi was also responsible for the levelling up fund that has benefited communities across the North East. He believes that everyone – wherever and whoever they may be – should have access to the same opportunities. There is no better demonstration of that than his decision to bring the Treasury campus to Darlington.
This is an agenda that he will not renege on; the same cannot be said of his opponent who just last week suggested that nurses, teachers and police officers should be paid less than their equivalents in London. I am glad that these plans will not be going ahead, but the electoral fallout for the Conservatives had we been in the middle of an election campaign would have been nothing short of apocalyptic.
So much has been achieved for the North East in recent years. Sunak will build on that and make sure that our priorities are delivered and our voices are heard. .