MINISTERS have been warned they are threatening Tyneside jobs as they consider allowing Liverpool port chiefs to take trade away from the North East.
Merseyside council bosses have told the Government they want to pay back some of the £21m in public cash used to help them build a new terminal four years ago so it can sidestep state aid rules and compete with other ports.
It is feared that allowing Liverpool to try to start and end cruise journeys at its Pier Head terminal will hand Merseyside an unfair advantage and damage trade at ports such as Tyneside. Liverpool has proposed repaying up to £9m, but has insisted it does not need to repay a similar amount in European cash.
Having cruises start or finish their journey at the Port of Tyne brings in around £33m a year to the region and underpins 1,400 jobs.
Last night Euro MP Martin Callanan said he was worried by news that the Government was now in talks with Liverpool over a new consultation on lifting cruise restrictions.
Mr Callanan, who has again written to the Department for Transport with his concerns, said: “Legitimate concerns about how public money is used clearly need to be properly and thoroughly addressed.
“All taxpayers, including those in the North East whose jobs may be threatened, will expect this.
“It does not seem right to me that the City of Liverpool cruise terminal should be made an exception and that is exactly why I have written to the minister for a second time and also alerted the European Commission.” The MEP said he wanted the Government to establish if Liverpool City Council received £21m of public money to build the City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal by making a promise it did not intend to keep.
“I have also written to remind the minister that it would be unfair to allow any change of use before the full £21m million grant has been repaid,” he said.
Just one year after it was completed in September 2007, Liverpool Council asked the Government for permission to use the terminal for turnaround calls.
The Labour government refused this request in December 2009 after confirming it would result in unfair competition and state aid issues.
However, following the General Election last year, Liverpool Council repeated its request to the new coalition Government.
Shipping minister Mike Penning has told Liverpool he is happy to start looking at the issue.
He said: “There are still some technical issues to be dealt with, but Liverpool’s submission to me is grounds to go ahead and consult with other parties. Then I will make a decision.
“The city council is proposing to pay back a percentage of the state aid it received for the terminal, which is what I said would be necessary when I came to Liverpool.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said no decision had yet been taken.
He added: “We have received documents from Liverpool and are in discussions with them, but as yet there has been no decision on a consultation.
“An announcement will be made in due course.”