The Labour peer hit back in Newcastle after members of his own party rubbished his report on the regional economy.
His defence came alongside a blunt assessment of the region’s schools in which he said there has “not been the same ambition to raise educational standards in the North East as there has been in London.”
The former transport secretary was this week accused of “intellectual dishonesty” for failing to address the impact of Government cuts on the region when heading up a report into the future spending priorities of the North East.
Leading criticism in parliament this week was Durham MP Kevan Jones, who said the report will simply “raise expectations without delivering” and described Lord Adonis as having never “been elected to anything - apart from when he was milk monitor at school.”
Speaking at a Centre for Life conference on the next steps following his agenda-setting report, Lord Adonis was forced to defend his work in the region, and suggested Mr Jones was out for revenge.
The pair fell out during Labour’s time in power over the issue of academies, with Lord Adonis favouring the Vardy brothers bid while Mr Jones wanted a more locally backed group.
Lord Adonis said: “Kevan and I have had big disagreements in the past on education in the North East. They were honest disagreements. I was in favour of significantly more radical reform than he was prepared to support in the North East.
“But let me be clear, I am hugely ambitious for the school system in the North East, and it has to perform at a steadily higher level, and there is absolutely no room for complacency. One of the big challenges facing the region is that it’s schools are performing at a significantly lower level now than schools in London although they face similar social challenges.
“We have to see big improvements in schools standards in the North East and in my view that means big and bold reforms and no room for complacency.”
Asked why schools are not doing so well he said that there had “not been the same ambition to raise educational standards in the North East as there has been in London.”
Last night Durham North MP Mr Jones refused to back down, telling The Journal: “You can’t put forward a report like his without looking at what the Government has done to North East. It is not my job to be an apologist for the Government in the region, and either he is or he is giving them the opportunity to hide behind this report.”
Lord Adonis report sets out to create 60,000 jobs and to give the next generation of workers a new skills base, calling for new council structures to see the region handed a powerful voice capable of campaigning on issues such as high speed rail or green energy investment.
Asked about claims the report ignored the cuts crisis facing the region, the peer said: “In my experience you never do anything worthwhile without having some opposition. But the great majority of Labour politicians in the North East support me.
“There is a big debate to be had about cuts, but can’t let that stand in the way of big things such as investment here, or getting a new transatlantic flight to America. The issue about public sector cuts is a party political debate, that was not the remit of my report.”
While Lord Adonis was accused of failing to acknowledge the impact of funding cuts, the peer turned the table on MPs, saying they were too focused on winning political arguments rather than helping the region grow.
“For the Labour party there is a big issue about cuts in the North East, as a Labour politician I am of course opposed to cuts in the North East, and that’s a debate that will run until the next General Election. But there is a big agenda we all need to take forward on skills and transport in the North East. That can’t wait until the General Election, it has to start now to make the North East a much stronger location for new inward investment.”
Merger to let councils lead region
Business leaders gathered in Newcastle yesterday were assured the region is address its economic problems.
Lord Adonis’s report earlier this year made a series of recommendations which, the conference was told, are being addressed.
One of his most important recommendations was for a new level of regional leadership to address the issues hold the North East back.
As a result, seven councils leaders from across the region confirmed their intention to form a a combined authority, sharing major decision-making efforts while leaving untouched day to day services.
Mick Henry, Gateshead Council leader, insisted the seven were working together, and would have Government approval for a new body able to borrow to invest by next April.
Addressing that leadership problem is the one issue which underpins the Adonis report. the combined authority will prevent council infighting, the plan says, while the North East local enterprise partnership will take up some of the funding challenges thanks to its access to European loans cash and a multi-million pound infrastructure fund.
Partnership chairman Paul Woolston said work was already under way to create the structures needed to speed up change. Much of the Adonis report, he told the conference, will be used as the basis for a Government required strategic economic review setting out how taxpayer funds will be used to support jobs in the years ahead.
He added that the region was working on a specialist innovation unit to address the need to boost the private sector.
The partnership is also addressing the skills issue raised in the Adonis report. Ministers have handed over control of skills funding to the region, with courses now having to match up to employer needs to secure cash.
And on transport, the partnership was working with councils to try to secure for Newcastle Airport regular flights to the US.