QUESTIONS have been raised over a North East job creation programme after it was quietly dropped.
Just over 18 months ago Newcastle and Gateshead councils announced they were scrapping a city regeneration firm but would grow jobs by appointing the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, to recruit leading UK employers to become “brand ambassadors” for the city region and attract firms.
But with the councils unable to name a single ambassador appointed by the peer, his involvement has now been dropped.
Instead the two local authorities have tasked an inward investment team at marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative with finding jobs.
To date, though, the unit can point to just 70 call centre jobs and a small sales team for the tradesmen’s listings company Checkatrade.com
In a statement NGI insisted it had gone from having a “non-existent pipeline” of potential jobs to now having links with firms which could bring up to 2,000 to the region, though none of the potential companies are named and there is no public start date.
Last night opposition councillors said that with several hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money going into the marketing agency, “it should be able to have more than 70 jobs to show for two years work”.
Newcastle’s Liberal Democrat group leader Anita Lower said it was vital “all our job creation efforts are at 100%”.
She added: “We have seen the regional ambassadors praised as a council achievement in cabinet papers but it turns out there aren’t any of them.
“When you look at what we have been told there is a lot of praise for their own work, a lot of grand-sounding descriptions of their efforts, but actually very little is being done.”
The NGI team said that as well as those announced jobs it has “a significant bank” of 45 live projects and a further 49 leads in development with international teams in the USA and India which could one day create 2,000 jobs.
A spokeswoman added: “Secured business investment to date includes a contact centre, in the process of setting up in Newcastle, which will create up to 70 jobs and Checkatrade.com, a national company with an annual turnover of £6.8m, which has set up small sales operation in Metropolitan House, Gateshead.”
In a statement defending Lord Falconer’s efforts to sell the North East during a recession, Newcastle and Gateshead councils said: “Lord Falconer has not received any payment since 1NG was discontinued in September 2011, but in terms of ambassadors, many senior figures from business are playing an active role as champions of Gateshead, Newcastle and the North East.
“Over the last year, we have prioritised joint work where we see the greatest economic impact, this has included the practical development of the business-winning team at NGI to secure growth across Gateshead and Newcastle by generating inward investment leads.
“We have also seen significant developments in relation to City Deals and the proposed Combined Authority, which will play a major role in our future growth.”
There is a lot of praise for their own work, but actually very little is being done