The Chancellor has called for a "united front" to try to retain Conservative seats in the North East at the next election.

Jeremy Hunt visited the Darlington Economic Campus (DEC) to celebrate National Apprenticeship week and the fact that it is nearly three years since it opened.

During his visit, he told The Northern Echo that he believes Levelling Up has been a success.

He held up the Treasury's plans in Darlington as an example of why voters who decided to vote for Boris Johnson in 2019 might be persuaded to vote Conservative again.

He wouldn't share any details of the upcoming March budget with us but he did talk about the decrease in National Insurance (NI) which has come into effect.

We asked if there might be any more government support extended to councils in need as people in our region were more affected by rises in council tax.

In recent months almost 40 councils across the country have announced that they are at risk of bankruptcy, including Middlesbrough and a warning from Darlington Borough Council that "life will be harder".

Mr Hunt said: "Last week, we announced £600m of support and in my first autumn statement I increased adult social care by nearly 40%. Most councils say that social care is their biggest expense.

"One of the biggest things that we can do is spread jobs outside London like this Darlington Economic Campus. It increases the council tax base for councils outside London, where traditionally it (council tax) has generated less revenue for them in London and the South East.

"I hope that will make a difference. We want to create 1400 jobs across the area, we are moving to a brand new building and we are already up to 700 jobs.

"That will make a big difference if we can do more of this kind of thing. It will make a big difference to people’s council tax base."

We asked the Chancellor what he would do, if re-elected, about the people of Darlington's biggest concern - their high street.

He said: "What you are seeing in a town like Darlington is a transformation of the town centre.

"There has been a big upgrade to the market that the local MP Peter Gibson fought very hard for. 

"For the last two years we have had a 75% discount on business rates for retail businesses as well as for pubs and restaurants.

"That is basically giving very extensive support on the tax that is of the most concern to all shops in the high street because it’s a tax they have to pay before they even get a penny in profit.

"We do also recognise that high streets are changing because of online shopping.

"There’s a transition towards high streets as a leisure destination of where people want to go and have a coffee and do things as well as shop.

"What we want to do is to try and support high streets in that transition. To help them be a main focal hub for our communities."

The Chancellor did express his party has to show unity if it has a hope of retaining the North East seats that swung in 2019.

He said: "I think we have got every chance because what people can see since 2019 is that two thirds of all the new jobs created have been outside London and the South East.

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"They can see big levelling up programmes happening in a way that hasn’t happened before, huge transport projects which were announced following the HS2 decision.

"You can see there is a real energy in terms of the economic development which never happened under Labour governments and so we have got to get out there and get our message out.

"We have got to make sure that we are a united front. If we do that I think we have every chance of holding on to all of those seats."