“I will come again in six months - that's if I haven't been sacked by then for thumping a reporter from The Northern Echo..."

Those were Business Minister’s words to me this week when I pressed her for an answer on why the Prime Minister still hasn’t visited Teesside during the steel crisis.

She was joking. I think. It is sometimes hard to tell when Anna Soubry is being serious. Last week in an interview with Tyne Tees she suggested the SSI site could be transformed into a nature reserve. Pigeons may be roosting in the defunct blast furnace but I cannot imagine the former steelworks is likely to host BBC’s Springwatch any time soon.

Such flights of fancy do nothing to boost the minister’s credibility when she is attempting to convince Teessiders that she really has a grip of the issues they are facing.

More than six months after the works shut about 900 former SSI and supply chain staff are still out of work. The area they are trying to find a new job in is blighted by the highest unemployment rate in Britain. Ms Soubry’s lighthearted style does not convey the impression of a Government which takes seriously the massive challenges some families face in our region.

In her defence, compared to many of her cabinet colleagues Ms Soubry is prepared to answer questions from the media. Senior ministers’ are so tightly managed by their advisors reporters are lucky if they get to ask more than one question and that is usually answered with the kind of anodyne, party-political tripe that makes you wish you hadn’t bothered.

I feared this week’s press call at ERW Joinery on Skippers Lane Industrial Estate, Middlesbrough was going to turn into a similarly pointless affair. We had been told to arrive at 3.30pm but things weren’t looking good by 3.45pm when none of the interviews – for the local TV stations, Press Association, the Echo, Gazette and radio – had started and the minister was ‘on a tight deadline’ according to her communications chief that meant she had to leave by 4pm.

Ms Soubry, who conducts interviews with the chummy familiarity of a posh theatrical agent - she addresses you as 'darling' 'my dear' or 'this lovely man' - waved away her media team and did the rounds of the North-East press pack.

By the time I got my brief chance to quiz her as she walked back to her car she was running out of platitudes.

She had plenty of nice things to say about the SSI task force - which has made a decent fist of a very difficult situation - but answering the big questions such as who will pay the SSI clean-up bill? why hasn't the PM been to Redcar? when will the clean-up start? is there a plan to create more jobs? was more of a struggle.

I suspect I'll be asking her the same questions in another six months. That's assuming both of us hang onto our jobs.

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