Does the north need a voice as loud as London's mayor?

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBBC Inside Out asks if a super mayor similar to London's Boris Johnson is needed to speak up for the north of England

The one thing you can't do is ignore London's mayor.

Boris Johnson, just like his predecessor Ken Livingstone, has raised the profile of a city that hardly needs more global recognition.

The role has real power and in the hands of two charismatic mavericks it has meant the capital has ensured its voice is heard loud and clear in government circles.

So do we need a 'Boris of the North' to fight our corner?

Recently the think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research produced a report that suggests we do.

In the style of the current London mayor I decided to put the theory to the test with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach for this week's Inside Out.

Image caption The face of the North? Peter Davies, Jessie Joe Jacobs and Dave Fishwick

I certainly had fun travelling around the north seeking out potential candidates, and finding out what they think our priorities should be.

Peter Davies already has the title of mayor. The citizens of Doncaster elected him to be their prime burgher and he certainly knows his onions.

He rules the city with a rod of iron and he took me on a whistle-stop tour of his domain.

As well as what you see in the film, we saw neighbourhood hit squads being dispatched to react to reports of anti-social behaviour.

We also visited a library that was threatened with closure, but was handed over to the local community.

The council pays the bills and insurance, but local volunteers run it.

As they clean it themselves they told me there's no large outsourced cleaning contract to worry about, so the council saves money too.

Local rivalries

Peter is proud of what he has achieved and although his time in office has not been without controversy he's particularly keen on ensuring Doncaster isn't playing second fiddle to any neighbouring cities, like Sheffield.

So would he consider becoming the 'Mayor of the North'?

Ludicrous idea he tells me, there are too many rivalries and each northern city should fight for itself. I guess he's not in the running then!

Image caption Dave Fishwick decided he could do a much better job than the banks at lending money

Next I met Dave Fishwick in Burnley.

He's another engaging character on my potential list of mayoral candidates.

The self-made millionaire decided he could do a much better job than the banks at lending money to businesses, so he set up his own.

The 'Bank on Dave' slogan sounds gimmicky but Burnley Savings and Loans is fully licensed to operate.

Technically it's not a high street bank, but a link between people who want to invest their savings and people who need a loan.

Lending advice

Dave says he is unlocking the business potential of his home town by providing the finance to get local businesses growing. He'd like the rest of the region to follow suit.

So could he be the person to champion the whole of the north as our super mayor?

He's so focussed on his mission to spread his banking revolution, the most I could commit him to was a loan of his time to offer advice to whoever got the imaginary top job.

Undeterred I headed to Teesside to see if Jessie Joe Jacobs might be tempted.

She runs A Way Out, a charity that aims to improve the prospects of women and young people, many of whom have led chaotic or destructive lives.

Seeing the underbelly of deprivation as she does, her boundless optimism seems remarkable to many who might otherwise give up.

Making connections

Jessie wants to unlock potential wherever she sees it.

For the north one of her priorities would be for us to take control of our own transport. The North East feels rather cut off from the rest of the UK.

Major trunk roads like the A1 are reduced to single carriageways. The motorway network is intermittent, and taking the train from Newcastle to Middlesbrough is a one and a quarter hour trundle.

Connecting with the rest of the north is no better.

Image caption The train journey from Newcastle to Middlesbrough takes one and a quarter hours

But why transport?

Jessie says it's the key that unlocks investment, makes it easier for people to take up jobs that might otherwise be beyond their reach, and it could bring in tourism that currently stays away.

Dare I ask if she might take me up on the offer of becoming a mayor for us all?

Jessie is not one to turn down a challenge and was prepared to say that if she felt she could actually make a difference she'd be prepared to give it a go.

What have I learned?

That sparky, feisty northerners are not in short supply. If you could harness all their energy and ideas it would be a real force to be reckoned with.

Whether 'The North' will ever be a real entity, other than on road signs heading out of London, is debateable.

The immoveable Pennines mean we are naturally divided and man-made rivalries may mean we are unlikely to unite under such a broad banner.

Ultimately Boris is only mayor of London, not 'The South', so perhaps it's unrealistic to to expect us to find an individual who could ever speak for anything larger than a mere city.

You can see my hunt for a 'Boris of the North' on Inside Out North East & Cumbria at 19:30 GMT, Monday 25 February, 2013 on BBC One.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites