Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused Labour of "deterring progress" in the North East, during a visit to the region yesterday.
The Lib Dem leader, who was visiting two Newcastle-based companies to see how they were using government money to expand and take on more staff, said Labour was to blame for the North East’s current unemployment crisis.
He told The Journal: “Previous governments have sucked up to banks in the city of London, under the false illusion that the whole of the country would benefit.
“All of that came to a crushing end when Labour crashed the country’s economy back in 2008.
“I set up the Regional Growth Fund two or three years ago to allow companies to get a leg-up. Most importantly, it’s about creating and safeguarding jobs in the local area.
“I’m from South Yorkshire, which like the North East, has been heavily reliant on public sector employment for too long.
“We need to rebalance the British economy and make sure this region can stand on its own two feet. This government is expanding apprenticeships on a scale that this country hasn’t seen in a generation.”
The Deputy Prime Minister said he was a supporter of the planned £50bn HS2 rail project, which is intended to allow trains to run at 250mph from London to Birmingham from 2026, with branches to Manchester and Leeds via Sheffield planned for 2033. The HS2 plans have had the backing of all three main political leaders but are strongly opposed by some backbench MPs. However, shadow chancellor Ed Balls has hinted Labour might ditch the project over its cost if the party regains power.
Mr Clegg said HS2 was vital for the UK and should be delivered within the agreed budget.
“Labour is playing political games with a major infrastructure project which is essential to the prosperity of our country going forward,” he said. “Labour needs to get off the fence and stop deterring progress in regions like the North East.”
Mr Clegg saw first-hand how millions of pounds of Regional Growth Fund (RGF) money is being spent in the region. Walker-based DUCO and Responsive Engineering, in the Team Valley, were both successful in previous rounds of the cash injection. DUCO is using its £3.6m RGF cash to create 168 jobs and safeguard 191 posts. It will also use the money to expand its R&D facility and develop a new manufacturing plant.
The company’s chief executive, Jean Louis Restaing, said: “We make enormous steel tube cables used to control and maintain subsea wells from offshore platforms or ships.
“Technology is evolving and we’re in a competitive market. We have the skills and workforce in place to really make the most of this funding, creating jobs and inward investment from new markets.”
Responsive Engineering has meanwhile been awarded £654,000 to invest in a new plant and machinery.
The investment, which has created 82 full-time jobs, means that they can keep on top of the competition for their clients in the oil and gas industry.