LABOUR has called for a full independent audit of spending by Mayor Ben Houchen after it was revealed the cost of each job created with the help of Tees Valley Combined Authority money is nearly £100,000.

Currently the cost per job created by combined authority interventions is calculated to be £96,093.

However the authority expects this figure to fall to £39,800 when viewed against the total jobs forecast to be created by approved projects over the lifetime of a ten-year spending plan, which was agreed in January last year.

Mr Houchen said the authority, which is tasked with driving economic growth, was still in the early stages of its investment plan and the jobs being created were “changing people’s lives”.

But Labour’s Alex Cunningham, the MP for Stockton North, said: “For these figures to reveal that each job created has cost nearly £100,000 is extremely worrying and there is an immediate need for a full independent audit of exactly what Ben Houchen is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers money on.  

“We see plenty of pictures of the mayor in hard hats, but invariably there is no substance behind announcements which time and again are no more than another picture call for something that had already been announced.

“And it appears that many of the jobs he has ‘created’ are in projects which are yet to get underway.”

An update on how the authority is delivering against its ten-year plan, which is worth £588m, said that so far £68.5m has been spent and 2,227 jobs created, based on those projects which have been approved in the region.

This is about 15 per cent of the total number of jobs forecast to be created over the lifetime of the plan – 14,775.

The report said: “A large proportion of combined authority investment is delivered on the basis of investing in the right infrastructure to accelerate private sector growth. 

“The number of jobs delivered by the investment plan generally comes from investment to support business growth, which may not be fully captured as the private sector benefits from the totality of our investments. 

“It is, however, anticipated that over the lifetime of the investment plan our efficiency will increase.”

A strategic economic plan previously published for the Tees Valley predicted that 25,000 net additional jobs could be created over the next ten years, although this prediction was not solely based on combined authority activity.

If the target were to be successfully reached it would mean the region outperforming the UK growth rate in a number of sectors and see significantly smaller decline in others.

But progress towards this figure has stalled and the update said the number of cumulative jobs – taking into account those created and lost –  were actually estimated to fall by a thousand by January next year, meaning there would be a jobs deficit.

The report said: “This is likely to be compounded by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this should be viewed in the light of the UK's macro-economic performance, and is broadly in line with comparative UK regional averages.”

Mr Cunningham said: “ We know it is a tough environment out there with more jobs lost each month than created, but it is deeply disturbing that there will be a jobs deficit in terms of previous predictions in the strategic economic plan for the Tees Valley.

“As well as subjecting the mayor’s job creation spending to an independent audit, which would examine his decisions and value for money, it is time he simply listed the companies where the jobs are and be honest where those jobs have or have not been filled.”

Conservative Mr Houchen, who was elected as Tees Valley Mayor in 2017, made good on a pledge to take back Teesside Airport into public hands – at a cost of £39m.

He is also overseeing £393m worth of investment in the Teesworks site at Redcar – formerly the SSI steel plant site – over the next 12 months, which could create 775 new jobs.

The bulk of the combined authority’s planned spending over the next decade – £256m – is to go on transport schemes, including £47.5m to fund major redevelopments of Darlington and Middlesbrough railway stations, while £24m has also been committed towards the cost of a new Tees Crossing.

The next biggest slice is spending on business growth projects which amounts to £146.5m.

The update provided to cabinet members showed that, broadly, for every £1 spent by the authority 40p was also forthcoming from public sector funding and monies leveraged from the private sector.

It was originally forecast that £64.7m would be spent in the 12 months from April this year, but this figure has now been revised upwards to £85.4m, an increase of £20.7m.

This is because of an underspend specifically relating to land and infrastructure costs and increased spending on transport, culture and tourism.

Extra funding has been allocated to subsidise bus travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, while financial support has also been made available to businesses in some sectors through various schemes promoted by Mr Houchen.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Mr Houchen whether he was providing value for money, whether he was content with progress made, and if the Government’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda for areas like the Tees Valley was working.

Mr Houchen responded in a statement: “Since I was elected mayor tens of millions of pounds has been invested across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool to create more than 2,000 jobs as part of a ten-year investment plan that will ultimately see the creation of  more than 14,000 good-quality, well paid jobs for local workers.

“We are in the early stages of delivering our investment plan, a plan that was agreed by the Labour council leaders who made up the combined authority cabinet in January.

“We are investing upfront to deliver longer term and sustainable job creation – this can be seen across the region – but most dramatically on the Teesworks site which has gone from a site with little activity other than essential safety work, to a hive of activity through our ongoing 12-month demolition and remediation programme which will create 775 jobs.”