THE death this week of Likely Lads star Rodney Bewes stirred memories of the classic episode where Bob and Terry try to get through a day without hearing the result of an England football match before TV highlights are shown that evening. Nowadays, 24/7 news makes it almost impossible to avoid a big story for a few moments let alone an entire day.

Government leaks and the dark masters of PR ensured that most of Philip Hammond’s budget was in the public domain long before Wednesday lunchtime. Thus the Chancellor's announcement that £123m was being spent at the SSI site lost much of its surprise value and became more a case of confirming the unsubtle hints that were dropped by Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen earlier in the week.

The mayor insists the money is new. He hotly denies that the lion's share of the cash is merely part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to maintain the site in readiness for it being sold off. This may be the case but there is a strong argument in favour of saying that in the wake of the SSI collapse the Government had, and still has, a moral duty to invest in the revival of Teesside which remains plagued by some of the UK's highest jobless rates. Setting aside the £123m is the least they can do. What’s the alternative - allowing the land to become an unsafe eyesore unsuitable for future development?

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It was telling that Mr Hammond took the trouble to name two politicians in his budget speech - the Tees Mayor and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke. The Conservatives are understandably keen to show support for a Tory mayor and to help present him as a man who has the ear of the chancellor. That helps to boost Mr Houchen's profile and power no end, and if, in the process, it brings greater prosperity and new jobs to the area then we could all be winners.

But in the meantime Mr Houchen and his party are clearly using the SSI site as a political football. They may tell you otherwise and accuse the Echo of negativity but the fact is that we are a newspaper that still tries to bring readers the full story, not just the spin. It may be the case that we are way off the mark, that there is no political element to this, and it isn’t part of the Government's strategy to rebuild its reputation on Tees Valley around Mr Houchen's office.

We may be completely wrong, but that isn’t very likely.