THE North-East’s biggest council has defended its economic record after County Durham was unflatteringly compared with some of Europe’s poorest countries in an analysis of comparative wealth.

Maps published online and drawn up with data from Eurostat, an arm of the European Commission, show County Durham, along with the west of Wales, is lagging behind the rest of the UK’s regions when it comes to gross domestic product (GDP) - the value of goods produced and services provided per resident.

The statistics rank the county’s per capita GDP at less than 75 per cent of the EU-wide average and alongside the likes of Romania, southern Italy, Greece and much of eastern Europe.

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While Romania has had one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, specialising in the likes of IT and car production, it remains one of the continent’s poorest countries with almost a quarter of its population living below the poverty line.

The rest of the North-East is placed in the 75 per cent to less than 90 per cent bracket, while North Yorkshire is in the 90 per cent to less than 100 per cent category when it comes to the EU average for per capita GDP.

Durham County Council was forced to redraw its economic blueprint for the county – the County Durham Plan – after previous proposals were criticised by a Government inspector.

Critics have also highlighted the gender gap in the county with the employment rate for women lagging behind the North-East average and among the worst in the country.

Durham County Council leader, Councillor Simon Henig said: “As with all former industrial areas, County Durham has historically seen less growth than other areas of the country, however we are committed to working with businesses to provide jobs for residents and strengthen our local economy.

“It’s so important additional funding is made available for areas like County Durham and this is why we need clarity as soon as possible regarding funding once we leave the EU.”

Cllr Henig said the results of the council’s continued efforts to promote the county included the £28m train assembly facility opened by Hitachi, in Newton Aycliffe, the NETPark science park in Sedgefield, which employs more than 400 people, and the ResQ call centre in Seaham.

He added: “Our Finance Durham fund will see us invest £20m to help businesses grow, alongside the £10m we secured for the extension of Forrest Park and the 300 jobs we helped bring to County Durham by encouraging Atom Bank to set up here.

“We are also raising awareness of what a fantastic place the county is to live, work, invest, study and visit through the This is Durham, Place of Light campaign, which recently saw us host a reception at Westminster.”

The Northern Echo: DECISIONS CALL: Ross Smith, North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy

Ross Smith, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce

Ross Smith, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “We have many excellent firms in County Durham which are world class, but what we need are the conditions to allow them to grow to their full potential, then attract others like them.”