Progress on city deals plan welcomed by business leaders and MPs

The Northern Echo: STATUS HOPES: The Sabic plant on Teesside lights up the night sky STATUS HOPES: The Sabic plant on Teesside lights up the night sky

BUSINESS leaders and MPs broadly welcomed the government’s plan to progress deals which could allow the Tees Valley and Sunderland to shape their own economic destinies.

The two areas will now negotiate plans to get more freedom to decide their own futures.

However, Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, urged the Government to ensure the City Deal initiative could channel cash and resources to back up their plans.

“It is good news for the Tees Valley,” he said. “What really matters is what it means to the area. We have had lots of initiatives which come from the government with no hard cash behind them.

“We have got to play by the rules of the current government and it is better to be in the game than not, but my concern is what will it actually mean?

“Will it mean proper investment for the region?”

Stan Higgins, chief executive of the North-East Process Industries Cluster (Nepic), which represents the chemical and pharmaceutical sector in the region, said anything which gave businesses and councils in the region more say on their own fortunes was a good thing.

“First of all we need to know, can we take control of money that supports industry locally,” he said.

“I have been involved in trying to promote my industry and this region around the world and the funding for that has been abysmal.

“I think if we can get control of the marketing budget for our region so we can sell this region and our local industry around the world we will do a lot better than some national programmes.

“I also think there is better recognition locally about the big infrastructure requirements that large industries like ours require.

“Trying to explain that to the civil servants in the south of England has been very difficult. I’m not saying they’re stupid, but the fact is they have to stack these things up against other people’s priorities and decide which are most important.”

Councillor Bob Cook, Leader of Stockton Council, said: “Our joint vision for the Tees Valley is for it to become a globally significant home to petrochemical, bio chemical and new renewable energy industries. This will provide opportunities for supply-chain businesses in the area as well as accelerating the use of low carbon technologies."

James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said: “If successful it (this bid) will transfer a whole host of powers from national government to a local level. Control over transport and skills spending, to name but two key areas, will mean local businesses can properly plan for Teesside’s future economy”.

“This has real implications for our area’s long term development."

Paul Woolston, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “We are already benefitting from the city deal led by Newcastle and Gateshead and we hope this will soon be joined by the Sunderland-led bid.

“We would then be the only LEP area in the UK with two city deals. The value of such investment is felt across a much wider area than the cities themselves. Each deal underpins the strength of public and private sector partnerships across the North East LEP area."

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