MIDDLESBROUGH Mayor Ray Mallon has ordered his staff to operate an open-door approach to business in an effort to stimulate the local economy.

Mr Mallon told a gathering of more than 220 Tees Valley firms that the town had neglected the business community in the past but was now more responsive to its needs.

The announcement was made at a forum organised jointly by the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) and Middlesbrough Council's economic development team. It aimed to show how companies could grab a slice of the £200m Middlehaven project work.

Mr Mallon said: "We have got to compete with the rest of the region by being different, more exciting, more visionary than the rest. In the past Middlesbrough has neglected the business community, I am telling council officers to nurture them - when they tell us to jump I want them to ask, 'How high?'

"We have been trying to get the business environment improved making the streets safe and clean so that businesses want to stay here and new businesses want to come to the town to do business."

Bob Cuffe, NECC Tees Valley chairman, said: "The Chamber shares Mayor Mallon's desire to see business prosper and flourish. It is in all our interests to revitalise the Tees Valley and to make it an economically strong city zone."

Representatives of Tees Valley Regeneration and consultants Gillespies also gave presentations at the Riverside Stadium event in Middlesbrough.

This is the first of a series of events aimed to make sure that the Chamber's manifesto - More Business, Better Business and Better Conditions for Business - is at the heart of any regeneration plans.