NORTHERN leaders have welcomed the new budget but want to see more of the government’s “levelling up” agenda ahead of the Autumn statement.

Politicians and senior businesspeople gathered at Blackwell Grange Hotel yesterday to explore the new budget and what it means for the North and North-East more specifically

A buzzing room welcomed Darlington’s newly elected MP Peter Gibson, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Alan Moore, senior tax partner at Clive Owen LLP , which organised the event, at lunch time on February 13.

“Welcome to Conservative Darlington,” Mr Gibson said.

Providing an overview of the budget’s implications on the North, Mr Gibson said Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, the Richmond MP who has been in the role for just a month, has “done an amazing job”, noting “delight” that Darlington was mentioned twice in the budget.

He said: “This is an incredibly challenging time for us with coronavirus but effectively everything he can, will and should do, he will. We should be happy knowing support for our town and communities is there.”

Due to the virus, the event operated a “no handshake policy”, which saw no breaches – but a near miss.

Mr Gibson welcomed tax relief for leisure, businesses and pubs, noting its importance on town centres.

He said: “We all know the challenges of car parking and online shopping, so I was really encouraged by this relief. It’s a huge takeaway and a huge boost for a town centres. That, with other local government plans, will be hugely beneficial.

“If there’s something you’re buying online that you could get it in town, please come into Darlington town centre and do it here.”

The audience was urged to “check in” online and share their shopping local story, to encourage others into town.

“This budget was really about backing business,” Mr Gibson, who was a lawyer before becoming an MP, added.

“Those of you that know me, know that in my law firm I employed loads of veterans. I would encourage everyone to do so and hugely welcome changes to the National Insurance rules that encourage this.

“Considering how close as we are to Catterick, there is a considerable portion of our community who are looking for jobs after service.”

The plastic tax and other green policies were “whole heartedly” welcomed and deemed “about time”, although Mr Houchen cautioned against a lack of contingency plans with carbon emissions and any closure of heavy industry.

He said: “You have got to pair zero net carbon goals up with technology and innovation with existing jobs.

“Its easy to reach those goals when you close the steelworks and put 3,000 people out of work.”

Teesside is one of few regions to get a share of an £800 million budget to build a decarbonised industrial cluster, which buries carbon two miles under the sea.

Recognising the budget’s scaled back ‘’levelling up” agenda, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Houchen said: “We can’t stand here and pat ourselves on the back, we are just at the start of the journey. It’s just the start of rebalancing. We’ll continue to press in the spending review.”

The Teesside mayor expects an update on a freeport after UK-EU trade negotiations have progressed, and depending on coronvavirus.

An agreed win for the region, however, is Darlington’s train station, which will enable greater transport throughout the Tees Valley and into Darlington, “unbottling the problem of changing trains”.

Darlington’s Locomotion No 1 was also mentioned, as a “hugely important icon of this town” that should be saved.

Mr Gibson added that the budget delivers on election promises, responds adequately to coronavirus and delivers for Darlington.