A TELECOMS firm could create hundreds of new jobs in the region.
Mobile phone network operator EE, which already employs thousands of North-East workers, is bringing more than 1,000 call centre posts back to the UK.
The company is Darlington's largest private employer with about 2,000 workers and has bases in Doxford, Sunderland, and North Shields, North Tyneside.
Bosses told The Northern Echo they haven't ruled out moving the positions to the North-East, though did confirm 250 of the new jobs will be moved to Northern Ireland in the spring.
They also plan to triple the firm's apprentice scheme to support 1,300 young workers next year.
The move comes after a report showed North-East unemployment figures remain the highest in the UK, with 130,000 people out of work and 72,200 claimants.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed EE's decision.
He said: “It’s great news the company is bringing the jobs back to the UK and providing new opportunities for hard working people.
“I'm also delighted its apprenticeship scheme will be expanded to help more young people develop skills.”
Last year, EE, which operates the T-Mobile, Orange and EE brands in the UK, said it was making about 140 cuts to back office roles across its UK division, but also revealed it was taking on on 100 full-time and part-time call centre and sales workers in Darlington and North Shields.
It also wants to create 350 posts in 50 new high street stores.
Olaf Swantee, EE chief executive, said: “I want to be able to say we have done for customer service in the UK what we have done for networks.
“A major step towards this is returning 1,000 customer service jobs to the UK, where performance has been shown to exceed overseas contact centres.”
The company made its job announcement on the same day a study confirmed the number of unemployed people in the UK fell by 125,000 to 2.3 million in the three months to December.
The country's unemployment rate now stands at 7.2 per cent, though the North-East remains the UK's worst area for jobs.
Mark Stephenson, North-East Chamber of Commerce policy and research manager, said the job environment was showing tentative signs of improvement.
He added: “The labour market figures continue to improve, even if unemployment remains stubbornly high.
“The overriding trend, going back several months, is that employment is increasing and the claimant count number is going down.
“The unemployment figure is now ten per cent, which is down, but is still the highest in the UK.
“That is why we will challenge the Government ahead of the Budget to develop policy enabling businesses to play their part in addressing this.”