THE size of Cleveland Bridge’s debts – £21m – are such that we cannot really call for a political fix.

As much as there is to be said for state support of industry, this is an enormous black hole into which to pour taxpayers’ money.

The pandemic has obviously played a major part in the company’s collapse, but this is a deep seated problem. The foreign owners have been dispassionate – “callous”, our local Conservative MPs said – and wanted to minimise their own losses in Saudi Arabia rather than worry about a few hundred workers, and 150 years of history, in distant Darlington.

But the Bridge’s senior management also looks culpable. It looks as if the company worked on an £11m project for much of the first quarter of this year without making a bean. It looks like, in desperation for cashflow, they underbid to win the contract and then when costs started rising, they were squeezed to breaking point.

The collapse of Cleveland Bridge has been a seismic event in the Tees Valley, and now we worry about the aftershocks. There are 264 individual institutions, from Darlington council to small IT companies, owed money. The bigger players – the banks and the Government funds – can withstand their exposure, but in these tight times, the suppliers owed a few thousand are going to be worried.

They are the ones that may need political help. They would have trusted a company as apparently impressive as Cleveland Bridge, and we really don’t want them to be caught up in the ripple effect of this sad affair.