SIR Richard Branson has issued a blunt message to the people running the North-East’s biggest charity, saying: “They have to get off their arse and prove themselves.”

During a visit to Virgin Money’s offices in Newcastle the world’s most famous entrepreneur unveiled details of a rescue plan for the under-threat Northern Rock Foundation.

Sir Richard pointed to the 11 companies in the region with larger turnover than Virgin Money as potential donors. 

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The idea met with a cool response from some of the region’s biggest businesses.

Nissan, Northumbrian Water and Vertu Motors said they would rather continue to support their own successful charity efforts than back Virgin’s plan.  

If it fails, Sir Richard has pledged to set aside £1m-a-year for good causes in the North-East, to be managed by his Virgin Unite charity.

The Northern Echo understands that details of Virgin’s proposal were sent to Ed Miliband over the weekend, following comments the Labour Leader made on a visit to the region on Friday, before bosses at the foundation were told about it on Monday morning by email.