The race for Tees Valley Mayor stepped up a gear when the confirmed candidates appeared together for one of the first times to outline their visions for the region at a briefing held at the Materials Processing Institute.

With the election taking place in less than three months’ time, each confirmed candidate put forward the case for why they should be Mayor at the Question Time-style event, which was chaired by Chris McDonald, CEO of the Materials Processing Institute.

Sue Jeffrey (Labour), Ben Houchen (Conservative), John Tennant (UKIP) and John Tait (North East Party) all took part and engaged with Tees Valley business leaders in attendance.

The Mayoral election is part of the Tees Valley Devolution Deal, which will see significant powers on infrastructure, business development, skills and culture handed to the area, managed by the Mayor and the Combined Authority.

Sue Jeffrey said: “Over the last number of years, when we have seen policies from London, they haven’t always worked that well for us in the Tees Valley and, indeed, worse than that, when you’ve seen policies for the North East, you’ve sometimes seen preference given to Tyneside than Teesside.

“I can be that strong voice for the Tees Valley – both internationally and nationally. I think I can actually make the Tees Valley voice be heard right across the country and actually make us stand up and do things that we perhaps haven’t been able to do up until now. It’s about being a big Tees Valley doing well for all of us.”

Ben Houchen said: “We need to have a much more joined up approach to the area, so that colleges, the education sector, business and other sectors are joined up to such an extent that people have access to the fantastic wealth of opportunity and people that live and are established in the Tees Valley area.

“I’m somebody, who, in my whole professional life, has negotiated on deals, delivered on deals and made sure that things actually happen. I’m going to deliver and make sure that we make the lives of the people in the Tees Valley better and that the businesses of the Tees Valley grow and become the success I know they can be.”

John Tennant said: “We’ve got to prioritise the road infrastructure, re-introduce better rail transport and build a stronger link between the North and South because at the moment we are very much aware of the fact that the North East is pretty much an afterthought in Central Government. It’s important to have a mayor that will stand up for the people of the North East.

“I really want to see a light rail metro system introduced in the Tees Valley area, which was discussed a number of years ago and was scrapped in 2013, but the Mayor for the Tees Valley Combined Authority can bring that back alive.”

John Tait said: “The current strategy is simply not ambitious enough and I offer a number of ideas. The Mayor will have to work with the other members of the Combined Authority and it’s important we don’t allow this important opportunity for the Tees Valley to degenerate into a party political slanging match. I have an unusually broad background; I’ve worked in the chemical industry, I’ve worked in the computer industry, I’ve run my own business and worked for universities. I will bring the sectors together that we need to work together if we are to make a success of this role.”

Chris McDonald added: “I would like to thank the candidates for participating and everyone for attending the event, which was very informative for many of the region’s key opinion formers and business leaders. The role of Tees Valley Mayor will have huge significance for business and infrastructure across the region, and I am delighted that we were able to play host to an event of this importance, while providing the candidates with a platform to argue their case.”