Tensions persist over Teesworks while PM pledges to reward 'exemplary' handling of public money

A row over potential further investigation into the Teesworks project looks set to continue as the Tees Valley Mayor suggested it would be a deviation from progress.

On a visit to Teesside during's Labour's election campaign, Rachel Reeves - now Chancellor - said they would call in the National Audit Office (NAO) to further investigate the scheme. In a BBC interview following a meeting between the new Labour Prime Minister and 11 Metro Mayors this week, Ben Houchen said it was a Government decision if they wanted to be "sidetracked" by another inquiry but he didn't believe Keir Starmer wanted to get involved in "petty politics".

MP for Middlesbrough and Thornaby East Andy McDonald said the Mayor's comments suggested a "contempt for openness and accountability". Lord Houchen responded saying now was the time for delivery, "not the same old, tired and angry political games.”

In a press release from Downing Street following the meeting, there was no mention of a potential NAO inquiry into Teesworks. The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted the Cabinet Office for clarity on whether the plan is still on radar.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responded saying there are "clearly questions to be answered on the Teesworks project". They did not say whether or not this would result in investigation by the NAO.

Sir Keir and Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner did say, however, regional leaders will be given new powers over planning, skills, employment support and transport, "along with integrated funding settlements to leaders who demonstrate exemplary handling of public money." Mr McDonald, who was re-elected for a fifth term last Friday, previously criticised the overseeing of the regeneration project.

Prime Minister Keir Starmer met Metro Mayors from across the UK at 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Keir Starmer met Metro Mayors from across the UK at 10 Downing Street -Credit:Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

In April last year he made claims of "shocking, industrial-scale corruption" in the House of Commons where he was protected by parliamentary privilege. An independent review into the project published in January found no evidence of wrongdoing, corruption or illegality surrounding the Redcar site but criticised confidentiality and a lack of transparency in decisions.

Authors of the report also said a deal which saw two private businessmen end up owning 90 per cent of the site and make money on the back of public sector investment of more than £560m should have come under closer scrutiny. In the BBC interview, Lord Houchen said it was ultimately the decision of the Government whether they want to be "sidetracked" by another investigation.

He added: "What I heard from the Prime Minister today is he doesn't want to get involved with the petty politics that we've seen in Teesside over recent years. He wants to get on with the job."

In response to Lord Houchen's comments, Mr McDonald said: "It is entirely consistent and symptomatic of Lord Houchen and his tenure that he considers an investigation into his dealings at Teesworks by the National Audit office, to be mere distraction. He would have been better advised to recognise the scathing indictment of the Tees Valley review and welcome the greater scrutiny and inquiry that was precluded from the Tees Valley review."

Lord Houchen said the Prime Minister had made it clear he wanted to see growth on Teesside and the work at Teesworks, adding: "The election is over, now is the time for delivery - not the same old, tired and angry political games.”

At the meeting on Tuesday, the metro mayors were told the new Labour Government wants them to create Local Growth Plans while further devolved powers will be explored. Prime Minister Keir Starmer said: "I am a great believer in giving local people the power to make their own decisions, ensuring that areas like Tees Valley are at the heart of our country’s success. Until now, too many decisions have been made in Westminster, miles away from people in the Valley, that have an impact on your daily lives.

"That’s not right – and it is precisely why we are working in partnership with local leaders like Ben Houchen who know their areas best to deliver economic growth. By drawing on the incredible local knowledge of the people here, we will ensure we tackle inequalities and boost living standards to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.”

Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner reiterated the government’s commitment to widening devolution to more areas, and stressed the importance of "working hand-in-hand" with Mayors. “The Tees Valley remains one of the proudest industrial landscapes of the United Kingdom," she said.

"More than 1,400 local companies specialise in the chemical sector and it will also lead the world in clean energy, low carbon and hydrogen. With so much potential in its emerging sectors, our ambition is to spread even more opportunities.

“We want to relight the fire of our regions to drive growth in every part of this country, and to do this properly we need people who know their areas best to have their say."

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