THE MAYOR of the North of Tyne Combined Authority visited the district on Monday as part of a series of public question time events in the North-East.

Jamie Driscoll, who was elected in May, pledged to focus on community wealth building, addressing the climate emergency, setting up community hubs, building affordable housing, and developing meaningful adult education.

At the public question time event in Hexham, Mr Driscoll said all councils in the North should campaign for a better funding settlement from central government.

Speaking on the topic of devolving more powers to the North, he said: “In the North, only five per cent of the tax that we collect, we get to decide what it’s spent on.

“Devolution is about taking back control and letting us decide what it’s spent on.

“It’s about getting involved in campaigns. I want this to be as much as possible about empowering people in local communities, whether that’s with housing or small businesses.”

Mr Driscoll was asked about the rapid decline in high street trading throughout the UK.

“The face of retail is changing,” he said. “If we want our urban centres to be vibrant, we’ve got to get rid of this idea that people come in and leave again with shopping.

“In terms of what is going on in the high street, some of that will require the government putting its hand its pocket and some of that is going to be about making sure that where you have empty spaces above shops that they’re turned into residential spaces.”

On tackling unemployment rates in the region, Mr Driscoll said the combined authority’s target was to create 10,000 jobs.

He added: “I’ve been meeting directors of authorities trying to get them to set up in the North of Tyne region.

“We’re on target to create 2,750 jobs and I’ve not been in office a year against a 1,667 for five years so I’m pretty chuffed with that.

“They have to be full-time jobs that wouldn’t already have been created. These are investments that we’ve made to grow the economy.”

In his manifesto, the mayor proposed the idea of setting up a People’s Bank – a community bank that operated entirely in the North-East and only did business with residents and organisations in the North-East.

“If that money stays here, it gets reinvested here and small bushinesses get the money they need.

“This would be a bank owned by the people co-operatively and not the combined authority. It creates jobs, keeps money here and it democratises the economy.”