AN MP has warned of a return to the days of Norman Tebbit, after revealing that Jobcentre staff considered buying a bike for a North-East man – to get him to work.

Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield, attacked the move and said it was a sad reflection of the state of public transport in County Durham.

The purchase echoed the famous comment by Tory minister Lord Tebbit in 1981, that his father “got on his bike and looked for work” during the 1930s – and that other jobless people should do the same.

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Mr Wilson added: “‘On your bike’ was once just a Conservative Party slogan. Now they mean it. It seems the Government is implementing what Norman Tebbit said. I’ve written to Employment Minister Chris Grayling to see how widespread the practice is.

People need to get to work, even if it is on a bicycle, but any civilised society needs a decent public transport system.”

But a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions defended the idea, saying: “That’s what the flexible support fund is for.

“It is for something that can help people overcome barriers to work, whether that’s buying them a pair of shoes, or help with transport. It’s good that Jobcentres have that ability to help individuals.”

The spokeswoman added that, in the end, the bike was never bought, saying: “Presumably the person made their own arrangements to get to and from work.”

The row blew up after Mr Wilson received a letter from Elaine Richardson, senior operations manager of Jobcentre Plus, in Durham and the Tees Valley, in response to his warnings about cuts to bus services.

In reply, she wrote: “Anecdotal evidence does suggest the lack of accessible public transport is a barrier to some Jobcentre Plus customers from taking up job opportunities.”

Mr Wilson is among a growing number of MPs criticising cuts to local bus services, after the industry took a £300m hit from the Government’s spending squeeze.

Last year, Durham County Council withdrew £322,477 from subsidised public transport routes.

Mr Wilson added: “It is obvious that the cuts in bus subsidies in County Durham and the Tees Valley have gone too far, too fast, if Jobcentre Plus is now considering the purchase of bicycles so people can get to work.”

One man who visited the job centre yesterday and who has been out of work for 18 months said he would be happy to cycle to work. But, said the father- of-two: “Most people need a job to go to in the first place.”