DOWNING Street has been accused of delivering an astonishing snub to the region’s business leaders, after they were denied seats on the landmark trade trip to China.
Just two of 131 seats on David Cameron’s plane were allocated to company bosses from the North-East, the official No.10 guest list shows.
In stark contrast, no fewer than 75 of the 131 places were handed to business leaders from London and a further 17 to firms from the Home Counties.
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Now The Northern Echo can reveal that the organisers were given the names of seven leading North-East figures – yet none of those were picked to join the prime minister in China.
One was James Ramsbotham, the chief executive of the North-East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), who was originally invited to be part of the trade mission.
Mr Ramsbotham said: “It was about three weeks ago. I was asked if I would like to go and whether I could think of anyone else who would be interested.
“I said I would like to go, that I thought I was a good person to represent the ordinary business community and I gave them a list of six other people. Then I heard no more.
“I think an absolute travesty that there is a trade mission to a country like China and the great businesses of the North-East are not involved.
“But it’s sadly typical. There is a Southern bias, because the people putting together the list are based in the department of business (BIS) and the Foreign Office – and the people they know are in London and the South-East.”
The criticism was echoed by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who said: “China is an important market for the North-East.
“This is another example of the London-centric view of this Government and clearly demonstrates it is not rebalancing the economy away from the South-East.”
No.10 defended the guest list, which was put together by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), an arm of BIS – and which is based in London.
But a spokeswoman added that the companies chosen for the three-day trip were those with the “potential to showcase the best of British expertise”.
She said: “UKTI consulted with a wide range of organisations including the China-Britain Business Council and the Confederation of British Industry.
“They chose a varied and balanced selection of companies based on their interests in China, their sectoral focus and their potential to showcase the best of British expertise.”
The guest list has already triggered accusations of cronyism after a seat was found for Mr Cameron’s own father–in–law and his wealthy neighbour.
Viscount Astor is the stepfather of Mr Cameron’s wife, Samantha and is representing Silvergate Media, a media rights firm where he is deputy chairman.
Another delegate is lobbyist Lord Chadlington, the prime minister’s neighbour in Oxfordshire and the president of his Witney constituency association.
Also on the trip are one of Mr Cameron’s former policy advisers, who now runs a technology firm, and a City PR chief who joined him on holiday in South Africa in 2008.
The two North-East business leaders who did make it to China are both from Tyne and Wear. Neither was on the list supplied by Mr Ramsbotham.
One is David Dunn, the chief executive of Sunderland Software City, which offers vital support and connections to local digital businesses.
The second is Ross Linnett, of Recite Me, a Gateshead-based firm that developed a web-based cloud system which can be used from any computer with internet access.
Seamus Carr, of North Yorkshire-based Karro Food Group, one representative from West Yorkshire and two from South Yorkshire were also on the plane.
Mr Cameron has already used the trip to announce trade deals worth more than £5bn, including a plan to help small and medium-sized companies seek investors from China.