Brexit and the actual role of the North of Tyne mayor were among the talking points as the Tory candidate hosted an event this week in Northumberland.
Charlie Hoult spoke to a crowd of, in the main, Conservative supporters and councillors at Morpeth Town Hall on Monday night, as he bids to become the first elected mayor for the Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle area next month.
It was the first in a series of four ‘town hall-style’ events, with meetings also to take place in North Shields on Thursday (April 11), Gosforth next Monday (April 15) and Hexham next Wednesday (April 17), where entrepreneur Mr Hoult is setting out his vision for ‘projects, not politics’.
He said: “I’m not for the rabble-rousing stuff. I want to prove that I’m actually quite boring, have got on with stuff and got down to the nitty-gritty.”
Running through his business background and achievements, much of it in the tech sector, he added: “These are actions not words.
“There’s no point downloading £600million unless we have got something to spend it on.”
On the night, there was as much, if not more, input from Sir John Hall, the renowned businessman behind the Metrocentre and former Newcastle United chairman, who considered standing for mayor himself before deciding the role needed a younger man and backing Mr Hoult.
“When I look at Charlie, I see the embodiment of myself in him,” Sir John said. “I’m the bricks and mortar if you like and Charlie’s the future.
“We need structures in the region that are going to be in place long-term.
“We don’t have all the answers, we have to use the talent out there, but we need to have a leader to pull it all together.
“If he wins and if Charlie makes a success of the mayor here, we will get further devolution, further power and it’s power we need.
“We have to go out from this room and do what we can regardless of what we think of the national party.”
Opening the floor to questions, there was no surprise in the fact that Brexit came up first.
While the audience member accepted that this was not really relevant to a devolved mayor, he pointed out that it was sure to be something residents would ask on the doorsteps.
Mr Hoult said: “I voted to leave and I wouldn’t have a second referendum. I wish we would just get on with it. This role is about devolution and taking back control.”
He was also asked about the actual role of the mayor and where it fits in with national government and local authorities.
Mr Hoult highlighted that the ‘job spec’ refers to homes, land and infrastructure; jobs; education; and transportation, but also pointed to the examples of Ben Houchen (Tees Valley Mayor) and Andy Burnham (Manchester).
“It’s about being an ambassador for the region and going out and beating the drum,” he said. “Working as a team and getting the message out.”
Sir John added: “Do we go on as we did before or do we seize this opportunity? If we just carry on what we are doing, we will have nowt.”
Mr Hoult's opponents in the vote are Labour's Jamie Driscoll, independent John McCabe, John Appleby for the Lib Dems and Ukip's Hugh Jackson. The North of Tyne Mayoral Election will be held on Thursday, May 2, with the counting and results announced the following day, May 3.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service