A £60M fund to convert the region’s ports for the boom in wind power could fall victim to spending cuts, a Labour leadership contender warned.

Ed Miliband said he feared the fund – announced in Labour’s last Budget – would be the next key infrastructure commitment to be axed by the coalition Government.

In The Northern Echo’s latest interview with the leadership contenders, the younger Miliband brother revealed that four out of the five biggest offshore wind companies wanted to invest in Britain – if the facilities were right.

And he warned: “That was because of the money we were willing to put behind it. We can’t have the coalition putting that at risk.”

During the interview, Mr Miliband controversially suggested that people in the South should receive higher tax credits than people in the North, to reflect the higher cost of living.

The 40-year-old called for a halt to plans to reprivatise the nationalised banks as fast as possible, in order to retain a ringfenced bank specifically to pump-prime “modern manufacturing”.

Mr Miliband also said he favoured turning Northern Rock into a mutual, although he added: “I understand there may be issues with state aid.”

And he predicted Liberal Democrat disillusion would break up the coalition long before its five years was up, saying: “They are getting absolutely slaughtered in local council by-elections.”

The Teesside and Tyneside ports would have big hopes of grabbing a major share of the £60m fund, announced in March, but now frozen until the spending review is completed in October.

The cash is intended to allow heavy wind turbines to be manufactured on-site, following criticism that – despite plans to erect 10,000 wind turbines in the North and Irish seas by 2020 – British companies would miss out.

Mr Miliband said: “It’s very, very important that the Government goes ahead with the money that we allocated for the ports competition, which is modernising the ports.

“That is the thing that will enable offshore wind companies to come and locate here. If that doesn’t go ahead, it will be yet another blow to the green economy.”

The Shadow Energy Secretary called for a “living wage”, arguing that the minimum wage “fails to lift most people out of poverty”.

He said: “We need to address this issue of low pay, so I’m campaigning for bigger private businesses, and councils where they can do it, to pay a living wage of more than £7 an hour.

“We can look at the level of tax credits, so they benefit people in the South who haven’t benefited from the minimum wage.”

However, Mr Miliband insisted his plans would not result in a lower legal wage in the North, adding: “It’s up to others what they want to campaign for in other parts of the country – I’m not setting rates.”

On a “manufacturing bank”, he said: “Unless we address the historic problem that industry has been subordinate to finance, we are never going to get the good jobs and good wages that we need.”

Mr Miliband described an alleged rift with his brother as “total nonsense”, but admitted that South Shields MP David was the frontrunner in the leadership race.

Union’s backing

LEADERS of Britain’s biggest trade union yesterday confirmed their support for Ed Miliband in his bid to become Labour’s next leader, giving his campaign a big boost.

The executive of Unite overwhelmingly voted to nominate Mr Miliband after a recommendation from the union’s political committee.

The union’s one million political levy-paying members will now be urged to back Mr Miliband, who has also won the support of leaders of Unison and the GMB.