The quite often “forgotten” town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was brought into the North East Metro Mayoral election spotlight on Monday as Jamie Driscoll held a public meeting in what seemed to be the first candidate visit to the town.
Who is Jamie Driscoll?
Born in Middlesborough, Jamie Driscoll worked in a plumbing and engineering factory before becoming a software developer. He joined the Labour Party in 1985.
After moving to Tyneside, the man who is “uncompromising on hate” got involved with the anti-fascist movement. He also taught Ju-Jitsu for 25 years and in 2015, got back heavily involved with politics – becoming a Labour councillor on Newcastle City Council in 2018.
In 2019, the North of Tyne Combined Authority came existence and Jamie Driscoll stood to be Mayor for it on behalf of the Labour Party. He won the election with 33.9% of first preference votes and 56.1% of second preference votes – a proportional voting system was used in this election in which voters cast first and second preferences.
The new North East Mayoral Combined Authority
During his time as North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll negotiated a £4.3billion devolution deal for the North East of England, bringing Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, County Durham North Tyneside and South Tyneside into a new combined authority and making it the strongest devolved region in England.
Powers that the North East Metro Mayor will have control over include public transport, education housing and planning and the adult education budget.
Jamie Driscoll planned to stand for selection to be the Labour Party’s candidate for the North East Metro Mayor but did not make the candidate shortlist. Jamie left the party with a “heavy heart and deep disappointment” stating he had “no other choice”. He since threw his hat into the ring as an independent candidate.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness was selected to be Labour’s candidate for the post.
Jamie’s vision for the future
Speaking to a packed room in the William Elder building in Berwick, Jamie took aim at Westminster saying “there is very little trust in Westminster politics” and stressed the importance of working together cross party and that politicians should “speak from the heart and don’t just follow party lines”. He spoke of “the opportunity you get with an independent” being that it is “the person’s job to represent the North East over and above any political party”.
One of Jamie’s biggest points was on public transport and connecting the region in promising to take the buses back under public control, open new rail routes around the region, integrate public transport and make one ticket for rail, bus and metro and lower fare, making them free altogether for under 18s. Jamie said he would “make public transport so good, they will leave their cars behind”.
In response to a question asking, “what changes specifically to Berwick would you envisage in a few years’ time?”, Jamie spoke of £1.5million having already gone into the cultural creative zone in Berwick to support individual small businesses and additional training courses for people, there will be support for small businesses, there will be an on-demand transport system so that people in the outlying areas can get in.
The stakes at play
Berwick-upon-Tweed and its surrounding area are very isolated with public transport falling short. Growing up in the area, I have seen local bus services scrapped and those that remain have their operating hours cut. Although Government public transport schemes have seen bus fares on many North East routes capped at £2 with that lasting until 31 December 2024, the main bus operator in Berwick-upon-Tweed and the surrounding areas is not included in that, meaning residents must pay higher prices when leaving town with them.
Whatever happens in the upcoming North East Metro Mayor election, Berwick-upon-Tweed and the surrounding area will be affected significantly by transport and employment policy, or lack of. Every candidate needs to recognise this. Voters will have the chance to elect their first ever North East Metro Mayor, but for Berwick and rural Northumberland, the stakes of this election will be high and could determine if the quite often “forgotten” part of Northumberland can find its way back onto the radar.