2024 marks a historic year for the North East, with the upcoming election of a new regional mayor who will play a key role in shaping our region’s future.

That figurehead will lead a new combined authority that stretches across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham and will represent around two million people.

The multi-billion pound devolution deal negotiated with the Government for the North East hands the mayor significant funding and decision-making powers that the region has not held before, such as the ability to take public control over bus services.

Ahead of the mayoral election on May 2, we have asked all six candidates the same 10 questions to give voters a sense of both their policies and their personalities.

READ MORE: 10 questions for Green Party candidate Andrew Gray

Here, the independent candidate Jamie Driscoll discusses his record as the sitting North of Tyne mayor, his love for Hadrian’s Wall, and his favourite Star Trek character.
Why should people care about the North East mayoral election? Whether you vote or not, there will be a Mayor elected on May 2. That person will be in charge of a £6.1 billion devolution deal. That person will have the power to raise your council tax. In my five years as mayor, I never have. This is our chance to take some control of our future. To boost our economy. To get a public transport system that works. Both main parties have committed to more cuts and more austerity. Westminster isn’t coming to help us. We have to do this ourselves.  
If you could do one thing as mayor to improve people’s lives, what would it be? Create a Total Transport Network. That means bringing buses back under public control, so the Metro, trains, Shields Ferry and car clubs all work together as one. I’ll make public transport so reliable, so fast, and so comprehensive many people will prefer it to driving. It’s better for motorists too – less traffic is good for everyone. I’ll make it free for 18s and under and everyone in full-time education, so we build a long-term passenger base. And extend the Metro from South Hylton through Washington, and open up mass transit to Newcastle’s Outer West. 
What is your favourite place in the North East, and why? I love Hadrian’s Wall. There’s something magical about a structure that connects us to history. Imagining the soldiers there from all over the Roman Empire. How many generations have stood in the same place as you and admired the view. The scenery is stunning, whether rain, sun or snow. I used to run along sections of it, including past Sycamore Gap. It really did affect me when it was cut down. 
What is (or was) your day job outside of politics? Mayor is my day job, and has been since 2019. But I didn’t become a politician until I was 48. I left school at 16 and worked in a plumbing factory. I went to Northumbria University in my 20s to get an Engineering Degree, and worked as a bouncer to pay my way through. After working as an engineer, I became a company director, and set up my own business. I also taught jiu-jitsu for over twenty years, pro-bono.    
What is your proudest achievement in your political career so far? Being North of Tyne Mayor. I said in 2019 I’d try to unite the region and get us transport devolved. I’ve done that, and negotiated cross-party with Government to get the North East the best-funded devolution deal in the country. Creating 5,377 full-time, permanent jobs is a huge achievement. It changes people’s lives. I met a bloke called Dale who got one of these new jobs. He’d worked away in the Baltic, but with his new job in North Shields, he told me he gets to read his young daughter a bedtime story every night.    
Other than becoming the North East Mayor, what would your dream job be? One of the local companies we helped grow is a confectioner called SweetDreams in Cramlington. They employed a chocolate engineer – that sounds awesome! My dad was a tank driver, and I’d love to drive a tank. The job I’ve most enjoyed doing was raising my two boys when they were little. I loved spending so much time with my kids. I put my career on hold to be a stay-at-home dad while my wife continued her career as an NHS doctor. 
Who is your role model in life? I’ve always admired moral courage above anything else. I’ve been lucky to have some great influences – my mam set up a women’s refuge from domestic violence. That’s inspirational. I had some great teachers at school, too. But I’m not sure it’s healthy to idolise other people – I’ve taught my boys to be themselves and forge their own path in life. So I’ll choose someone fictional. Maybe Jean-Luc Picard? It’s not just the hairline. It’s the commitment to always stand up for what’s right. As he says, “There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.”
If you could ban one thing in the North East, what would it be? Political parties? Or at least our current way of doing politics. The winner-takes-all approach to politics does us no favours. We’d be so much better off if people put the stone-throwing to one side and focused on fixing the problems. Lots of people not involved in politics have great ideas and valuable experience. Not everyone is going to be right, but by listening to other views and discussing in goodwill, I think you end up with better decisions. 
If you could erect a statue somewhere in our region, who would it commemorate? Covid heroes. At the time there was so much public admiration. My wife is a GP in Gateshead, and I know the hard work so many workers put in to keep us safe. And how have they been repaid by Government? A cost-of-living crisis and below-inflation pay rises. So I’d go for a statue like the US Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima – but teachers and bus drivers and shop workers. 
If you didn’t win the mayoral election, which of the other candidates would you most like to win? Realistically, it’s a two-horse race between me and the Labour candidate. No one else can win. But whatever happens, I’ve left the combined authority in excellent shape. People might not realise that my entire staff team and over 70 current North of Tyne projects will form the basis of the new North East Combined Authority. The finances are in great shape, there’s no debt, no council tax precept, and our Child Poverty Prevention Programme is ready to roll out across the whole region now. When I was elected in 2019, we had to start from scratch.