Northern MPs have forced the Government to commit to regular regional meetings in a key victory in the region’s battle to be heard.
Nick Brown, the former regional minister, led a delegation to Whitehall seeking Government approval for a regular meeting with ministers.
His effort, backed by Gateshead’s Ian Mearns and Sunderland’s Julie Elliott, came after the Government repeatedly turned down pleas for a regional minister to ensure a Labour-dominated region can still raise its concerns with officials at the highest level.
But earlier this month David Cameron revealed he was creating a minister for Portsmouth to deal with the jobs fall out from lost ship-building contracts. The news prompted further concern that the North East, suffering from the UK’s highest unemployment rate, was being deliberately snubbed.
Now the Northern group of Labour MPs will join with the region’s two Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in meetings with cities minister Greg Clark every six to eight weeks.
The move ends a situation in which Hexham Tory Guy Opperman was in many ways having to act as a Northern-wide MP, rasing many issues that affect more than just his own constituency.
Mr Brown and his two Labour colleagues met with the Cabinet Office yesterday to finalise the plans. He said: “I am pleased at the outcome of the meeting. I raised strategic issues like the need for enhanced bank lending, a venture capital scheme for the region and the need for a scheme to bear down on long-term youth unemployment.
“The meeting was an opportunity to pursue a range of private sector projects that could strengthen the region’s employment base. This is the first in a proposed series of meetings. I think it was a success. So far. So good.”
Sunderland’s Julie Elliott added: “We had a very positive meeting with Greg Clark, discussing the possibility of meeting on a regular basis to discuss the issues of crucial importance for our region. We stressed the importance of tackling youth unemployment and lending to businesses, and agreed to have regular meetings in the future.”
The idea for the meeting grew out of work by Gateshead’s Ian Mearns, who was one of many MPs to meet with Business Secretary Vince Cable last year with a shopping list of North East improvements.
The Labour MP said: “We put to him then the things we need to grow the region, and Nick has worked with that to secure this regular agenda with Government.
“It is vital we have these meetings, because we have here a lot of potential to grow and our business community is so well placed to contribute to the economy.
“Government needs to realise that and help tackle the issues holding back the region, under-employment and high unemployment, training and access to finance for business.
“We are the UK’s best exporting region and these meetings will hopefully see Government make more of this.”