New hurdle in transport race

Tyne and Wear is at risk of losing a national transport funding "horse race", according to new research.

Drivers stuck in the traffic on the Coast Road heading in to Newcastle

Tyne and Wear is at risk of losing a national transport funding "horse race", according to new research.

The Centre for Cities think-tank says spending will focus on urban areas that deliver the greatest national economic benefit if ministers accept recommendations in a report commissioned from ex-British Airways boss Sir Rod Eddington last year.

And that could lead to Tyne and Wear losing out to London, the South-East and cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, whose economies are perceived to be performing more strongly and as offering more jobs.

Regionally, the study also raises the possibility of funding for schemes in Northumberland being used to improve access to jobs in Tyne and Wear, which would deliver more economic benefits.

Report author Adam Marshall said: "Newcastle and Tyne and Wear would not be as strong contenders in a national funding horse race when put against Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

"A scheme in Manchester or Birmingham is likely to deliver bigger economic benefits because they are bigger economies."

But his report says such a funding overhaul "sits uneasily" with the Government's stated aim to bridge the North-South productivity gap.

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said Tyne and Wear was the economic driver for the North-East, but it was important that access was improved both leading into and in the conurbation.

He said an extension of the region's motorway network was needed and problems with the Western Bypass - highlighted by The Journal's Go For Jobs campaign - affected rural areas just as much as Tyne and Wear.

The Centre for Cities report also urges ministers not to use Sir Rod's recommendation to concentrate on improving existing connections to avoid providing additional funding increases which experts say is needed.

The think-tank says ministers must admit that the Government's transport innovation fund, which will eventually provide more than £2bn for schemes linked to congestion charging and productivity, is insufficient.

Tyne and Wear council leaders have opted to become involved in the fund, with cash from the pot currently being used for a major study of congestion in the North-East.

But the new study says councils need revenue-raising powers or they will continue to base proposals on central funding availability rather than best options.

It says the Eddington report does not offer clarity about road pricing, but says cities must drop "dream" showcase schemes and re-examine investment priorities.

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Cameron wants EU changes

Conservatives leader David Cameron was accused last night of stealing Labour's policies on Europe.

The attack came from Europe minister Geoff Hoon on the eve of Mr Cameron's keynote speech in Brussels at the first conference of the Movement for European Reform.

Mr Cameron will call for a new EU approach replacing the current drive for integration with more co-operation between nation states.

He will insist the EU must stop its institutional navel-gazing and deliver results people want on climate change and CO2 emissions, strengthening a competitive economy, cutting red tape and tackling poverty.

Mr Hoon said the new Tory agenda was what the Labour Government had already set out in its EU reform programme.

Mr Hoon said: "I'm not quite sure which horse Mr Cameron is riding at the moment: is he eurosceptic or is he changing horses to become more sympathetic to the Government's EU programme?"

Mr Cameron's landmark speech is designed to spell out - to his own party as well as the public - that he is not interested in leaving the EU.

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Tories put One NorthEast under microscope

The Conservatives last night gave their strongest signal yet that they plan to overhaul regional development agency One NorthEast if they win the next election.

Shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan questioned ONE's value for money ahead of talks with the agency in Newcastle last night.

The comments came as Mr Duncan - who also holds the post of shadow minister for Tyneside - brought his entire team on a two-day fact-finding visit to the North-East.

The frontbencher said ONE should be at the forefront of efforts to improve business start-up rates in the region.

But he asked: "What have you got for £250m a year? A nice looking Quayside, but how far is the improvement spreading? We're not yet convinced that it's spread widely enough.

"The question is, is the RDA the best model?"

And in reference to a report launched yesterday by the New Local Government Network (NLGN), with support from Treasury ministers, calling for a new "super-agency" in the region, he said: "Quite clearly the Government doesn't think they're doing everything perfectly."

However, the shadow team rejected as a solution the NLGN call for a powerful executive agency consolidating the powers of a host of regional bodies.

Junior shadow minister Mark Prisk said: "This is yet another restructuring from Whitehall without beginning to understand the difference between local economies.

"These kinds of schemes thought up by think tanks in Whitehall are very often completely detached from the real world.

"We're coming to listen to businesses before we make up our minds." This week's visit comes after Mr Duncan pledged to make all his policies pass a "Tyneside test" to ensure they would improve enterprise in the North-East.

The visit will include meetings with Northern Rock, the North East Chamber of Commerce, Northumbria University and the CBI.

Shadow ministers yesterday highlighted tax, regulation and poor skills levels as key issues facing North-East businesses and hindering the region's economy. But Mr Duncan said : "We fully recognise the infrastructure problems for the North-East.

"The one we always hear is infrastructure.

"If you're stuck out on a limb, business won't locate here."

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