Former Labour Communications Chief and Hartlepool MP Lord Peter Mandelson has started a furious war of words with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen after accusing him of offering 'pictures today and jam tomorrow'.

Houchen replied by calling Lord Mandelson an 'out of touch fool'.

Asked about the benefits of Levelling Up for the region, Lord Mandelson, who had earlier been speaking to more than 100 business leaders at the North East England Chamber of Commerce President’s lunch at Beamish Hall Hotel, said: "Do you think it is a huge boost to buy up Teesside airport, and then have its last remaining daily flight to London cancelled? That's a huge opportunity?

Read more: Houchen welcomes Green Trade and Investment Expo in autumn

The former European Commissioner for Trade, who worked for Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said: "I wouldn't look any gift horse in the mouth. But I don't know whether this Freeport will have a lasting advantage and lasting appeal. I'm not going to decry any idea - I'll try anything new to regenerate Teesside, including the town I used to represent.

"So I'd give anything a shot, but I think you need to do more to bring greater structural change to the economy on Teesside. Optics don't do it. You need real structural, deep lasting change.

"That's why I've placed so much emphasis on the great energy and other transitions that are taking place, harnessing critical and emerging technologies from which whole new markets and industries are going to be build.

"We've got to see those technologies, the investment in infrastructure, supporting new industries, people with skills matching the new demand that those businesses will have taking place in Teesside, as much as anywhere else in the country.

"And that's not something that you can just pull a lever and deliver overnight. It takes time, consistency, proper investment, for example, in the education and training system. It's very easy to run those things down and starve them of resources takes longer, and it's harder to build them up again.

"You don't do that simply by making an announcement one day and saying, as I quite often hear, Ben Houchen saying, 'this is in the pipeline or this is being planned, or this is coming or we've got an opportunity here that might come our way.

"These attract great headlines, but how many times do people follow up and see whether what's been promised actually arrives? It's pictures today, jam tomorrow. And you wonder where the real benefit is the day after that."

A furious Ben Houchen replied: "For 13-years our region was littered with the ‘big beasts’ of the last Labour Government, but we got nothing other than empty promises. To hear these remarks from Blair’s right hand man and failed MP for Hartlepool who served for 12-years and delivered nothing for the people who elected him is comical.

"It pains the left to see the progress we’re making in Teesside, saving our airport from closure and bringing back holiday flights, securing the first and largest freeport, the Treasury campus coming to Darlington and relocating 1,500 civil servants to the town, the £1.5bn world-first Net Zero Teesside project, SeAH Wind’s £300million offshore wind facility, where construction starts next month, the world-first £1billion Sustainable Aviation Fuel plant, the £850million investment Sabic are making in their cracker or BP bringing two hydrogen projects to the region to name but a few.

"I will be judged by my record of delivery rather than some off the cuff remarks from an out of touch fool. The people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool don’t need to be lectured by the nation's number one remainer, they can see with their own eyes that our Brexit-busting Freeport is delivering jobs and prosperity for local people."

On the skills needed to make the most of new technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture that will dominate Teesside's industrial future, Lord Mandelson said: "Due to the the new technologies and ways of producing new goods and services, it's going to be a revolution in energy generation - we're already seeing it.

"We've constantly got to be looking ahead and seeing what the new skills will be, how we're going to invest in those who need those skills, and how we're going to use existing and new colleges and universities to train up the professionals of tomorrow.

"I'm not talking about people with PhDs, I'm talking about good professional technicians, people who can work as easily in a laboratory as on a factory floor and who are adaptable and can turn their skills in their trade, to new opportunities and new jobs as they come on stream as these changes continue to take place.

"The days in which we trained somebody for life to do one job in a particular industry have gone. What we've got to do is to match skills and infrastructure to the needs of the new industry, new businesses that have been created on the back of markets and industries, which 20 years ago didn't even exist."

The Northern Echo: Left to right John McCabe, Chamber chief executive, Jane Hogan of event sponsor St Oswalds Hospice, Peter Mandelson and Lesley Moody, Chamber PresidentLeft to right John McCabe, Chamber chief executive, Jane Hogan of event sponsor St Oswalds Hospice, Peter Mandelson and Lesley Moody, Chamber President

Lord Mandelson said he missed the cut and thrust of frontline politics, saying: "I think I probably miss the responsibilities and opportunities of government every day. I really miss it.

"To me, it was the biggest privilege and the biggest opportunity of my life to be able to head up a government department and to create policies and go out and argue for them -  and take all the brickbats as well. It's all part of the job to go on to the media and justify them and say why we're making this choice and not another. I really enjoyed it."

He is now set to chair the Future Industries Project, working with businesses to develop political understanding of the challenges faced by Britain's world leading high-tech industries. Addressing the key areas of Low Carbon Energy Transition, Zero Emission Transport, AI and the Internet of Things, Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences, and Space, the project will develop policies for a future Labour government.

He had told the Chamber guests earlier: "Britain is facing an immediate cost of living crisis but the major longer term challenge is one of fundamental economic growth.

“We cannot sustain the everyday economy we need – of retail, hospitality and caring which is the source of so many local jobs people depend on - or contain the explosion in taxes or rebuild our public services unless we raise the country’s overall, long-term growth rate. This has to be the central aim of government, whichever party leads it.

“Our policy should not be about propping up failing businesses or trying to re-create the industries of the past. It is about a relentless focus on the markets and jobs of the future – the new economy - using government where appropriate to mitigate risk in long-term bets on new industries and technologies. We need to lay the foundations of potentially major new supply chains in other science-based sectors, where the potential for growth is real whether in biotechnology and life sciences, low carbon power generation including hydrogen and nuclear, zero emissions transportation and the space and satellite sectors.”

The President’s lunch was Lesley Moody OBE’s last event as Chamber President after a three-year term and she thanked members for their support, as well as event sponsor St Oswald’s Hospice and associate sponsor Learning Curve.