Cabinet ministers told to stop ignoring the North East

Senior cabinet ministers are reluctant to visit the region after signing off millions of pounds of cuts in the North East

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

Senior cabinet ministers responsible for signing off cuts worth millions of pounds to the North East are repeatedly snubbing requests to visit the region.

Across the coalition, many secretary of states and spending chiefs have either never been to the North East on a formal visit or have made just one visit in three years.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has been to the North East once since 2010, the same frequency as six cabinet ministers.

More shamefully, seven heads of departments have not shown their face in the region. The list of no-shows includes Home Secretary Theresa May, whose budget cuts have seen North police forces reduce the number of officers on the streets.

Also refusing to visit the region is Education Secretary Michael Gove, despite repeated requests from the region’s schools and politicians. The Conservative minister has repeatedly criticised North East schools for failing to ensure children leave with good grades, telling the House of Commons the “smell of defeatism” was in the region.

Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond had the same bad record, a habit he appears to have picked up only after leaving the Department for Transport, from which he twice visited the region.

Prime Minister David Cameron has managed three visits to the region since the coalition was formed in May 2010. That includes a question and answer session at the headquarters of Greggs and a visit to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. His Chancellor George Osborne has made just one official visit.

It is thought Mr Cameron has previously been critical of cabinet colleagues who have not being getting out the message on regional visits.

The Tories coalition partners the Liberal Democrats have clearly made the North East a priority area. Business Secretary Vince Cable tops the list with eight visits, repeatedly seeing the offshore engineering businesses on the banks of the Tyne.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has also been a frequent visit, getting out of the capital and up to the North East six times since taking office.

Former Newcastle council leader David Faulkner said he thought the deputy prime minister showed he was prepared to face his critics.

He added: “I genuinely believe that both he and Vince Cable see the needs and the potential of the region and are committed to action and to being seen and being accountable.

“I think it especially great that they come up when the party has become so unpopular in the region - guilt by association with the Tories.

“And Nick Clegg so personally unpopular and the victim of Labour nastiness. It would be easier to keep your head down, stay away and hope for the tide to turn. He is however also very loyal to Ian Swales in Redcar and to supporting the party in Berwick given Alan Beith’s heroic defence of the seat over 40 years.

“The way that Clegg is prepared to face the criticism, take the flak and explain his position is courageous and maybe unprecedented.”

Conservative Berwick candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “It is important that ministers get out of Westminster at every opportunity to see how policies are working around the country. This year I have been pleased to welcome senior cabinet members to Northumberland who have seen for themselves the issues that are stifling businesses and communities, from red tape and tax to long-awaited A1 dualling and ineffective renewable energy policies.

“Our message is getting through but it’s not just about ministers visiting the region. The North East, and Berwick in particular, have long suffered from not having strong and active enough voices in Westminster. We need fresh drive and energy, and a better deal for Northumberland.”

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