North East Labour councillors under fire at Tory party conference

CONSERVATIVES gathered in Birmingham have warned that infighting among Labour's North East councils is costing millions in investment cash.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman

CONSERVATIVES gathered in Birmingham have warned that infighting among Labour's North East councils is costing millions in investment cash.

Regional Tories have revealed ongoing concerns that a “silo mentality” among Labour leaders is threatening to undermine job creation efforts.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman and the North East MEP Martin Callanan were joined by senior party leader Jeremy Middleton in their warning that some in the region were more concerned with making “political capital” out of spending cuts than in encouraging firms to come to the region.

At a fringe event, warnings were sounded that the local enterprise partnership, set up by ministers to bring businesses and councils together for economic growth, was being held back.

Mr Opperman said: “It is a constant source of frustration that the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is not pulling its weight.

“Either it is failing to work with the councils or the councils are not working with it. That issue is still very much there, it has not gone away.”

He was backed by Mr Middleton, who himself sits on the partnership, who told The Journal there was “a silo mentality” among too many council leaders in the North East.

“We had to have the partnership forced on to us and it shows,” he said. “If you look at Manchester, they secured millions and millions of pounds for the whole of the Manchester area.

“Here we just see Newcastle getting a city deal, but no wider approach.

“The result of that is that we are not getting the chance to create jobs in the same way as other areas are.”

Mr Opperman was backed by MEP Mr Callanan who said that the region is “dominated by Labour councils who wanted to complain loudly about the cuts without pointing out that the spending policies we agreed are not very far from what Alastair Darling planned.”

Northumberland Conservative group leader Peter Jackson added to the criticism of the region’s council leaders, saying: “There seem to have been an outbreak of infighting across all 12 local authorities in the North and it is a great shame that we have had this for the last two years.”

At a similar event at the Labour Party conference last week, Sunderland Council boss Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, admitted the region’s councils have struggled to see eye to eye on some issues.

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said that despite a shaky start, the local enterprise partnership was now at the point where the Chancellor was happy to extend its flagship enterprise zone.

“Now either Guy Opperman is wrong or the Chancellor is wrong,” Coun Malcolm said. “Because we were given a clear sign of George Osborne’s support when he came up last month.”

He added: “Last week, the leaders of the North East councils met with Manchester council leaders to discuss how we go about setting up a combined authority and what funding that could unlock. We are working together on this and pushing ahead with it.

“And on the LEP we have some very good minds, not least Jeremy Middleton, working on how to boost job creation and I don’t think Mr Opperman should be so critical of them.”

Patrick McLoughlin wants North East on the fast track

A STUDY looking at how to cut rail journey times between the North East and London is being launched, the Transport Secretary yesterday revealed.

Patrick McLoughlin said he wanted even more parts of Britain to benefit from the planned High Speed 2 (HS2) rail network in his speech to the Tory conference in Birmingham – with Scotland-London journey times slashed to under three hours.

The £34bn network is set to be built between London and Birmingham first by 2026, before being extended to Manchester and Leeds.

But there is no guarantee the track will reach the North East and the new study will look at how to maximise the benefit from the planned network. It is expected to be published early next year.

Last year, The Journal revealed figures showing the high-speed rail Newcastle to London journey time of two hours 37 minutes could be achieved on the existing line. The HS2 project is also mired in controversy for the Tory Party, with parts of the planned London-Birmingham line cutting through swathes of countryside in Conservative heartlands.

Mr McLoughlin, pictured, promised compensation for people affected but insisted the scheme should go ahead.

“I hear those voices who say High Speed 2 is too costly, who say we can muddle through, and yes, the easy option would be to do nothing. It always is.

“But my answer is that we can’t afford not to build it. Our competitors around the world are investing in the best transport, and we must too,” he said.

He added: “I want even more parts of our country to benefit. We’re launching a study on the way to get fast journeys further north still, with the aim of getting the journey from Scotland to London to under three hours and making sure the North East benefits too, because this will be a scheme for every person in Britain.”


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