New deputy mayor Cllr Antony High has been given a special mandate to tackle Middlesbrough’s growing drugs problem which mayor Andy Preston says is “killing the centre of town”.

Preston gave Middlesbrough-born Cllr High a ringing endorsement as he confirmed his appointment as the independent mayor’s right-hand man with the tough task of focusing on the town’s drugs problems.

Cllr High had previously been put in the temporary position of interim Deputy Mayor, as well as Executive Member for Finance, Governance and Place-based Services, but the mayor has now confirmed his position in an ongoing capacity.

Confirming the appointment, Mr Preston said: “Alongside his duties as Deputy Mayor, I’m assigning Cllr High with a mandate to focus on my absolute commitment to fight our town’s worrying drugs problems.

“Whether you know it or not, the drugs issue affects every one of us. It affects the economy in terms of the resulting crime that has such a damaging impact on the retail sector in particular and tackling that crime costs the town millions of pounds.

“It affects our image both in terms of visitors and residents and clearly badly impacts on the mental and physical health of the drug addicts themselves.

“It’s killing central Middlesbrough and other areas too, but I’m not prepared to let that carry on unchecked.

“Put simply, it’s Middlesbrough’s biggest single issue.

“I’m all for focusing on the positives, but it’s an inescapable fact that we have a drugs problem, as many towns and cities do.

“Sorting it out isn’t something I’m just going to leave to the police. I’ve given Cllr High a remit to work with the police and other agencies to bring a concerted focus on our drugs problem and its causes.”

A former leader for treatment provision in the North-East and a charity director, Cllr High’s remit will see him bring together a taskforce of crime, public health and economic agencies and experts with the aim of bringing about reducing the drugs issue in the months and years ahead.

Preston added: “Given his background, Cllr High’s the right man for the job. I’m sure he’ll make an excellent Deputy Mayor, as he’s got passion, energy and integrity.

“He always displays a down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach to challenges and I’m convinced he has the right blend to get stuff done.

“His heart is in Middlesbrough, he’s spent most of his life in Whinney Banks and he cares deeply about the community he serves.”

Cllr High, 35, said: “I’m proud and thrilled to be appointed as Deputy Mayor. I’m convinced Andy Preston is going to have a hugely positive impact on the town over the next few years and I’m looking forward to working alongside him.

“This has been a 20-year professional journey for me, and I believe I have the skillset to assist with critical improvements for us all.

“My remit to examine the town’s drugs problem is a sizeable task but I’m convinced, with the right support from the council, the police and other key agencies, we can put plans in place that will make a positive difference over time.

“In my personal and professional carrier I have experienced first-hand the way drugs can destroy lives and families, damage communities and cause huge cost to the police and health sector.

“But it’s given me an insight and knowledge that I believe will be helpful in tackling the issue for our town.”