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Adonis denies Labour split on NE economic rescue plan
A LABOUR peer has defended his plan to kick start the North-East economy following stinging criticism from his own party.
Former Transport Minister Lord Andrew Adonis was forced to respond
to a barrage of negative comments made by North-East Labour MPs during a Commons debate on Thursday.
Kevan Jones (North Durham) and Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) were among those who attacked the Adonis report for failing to take account of the impact of Government cuts on the regional economy.
"You never do anything worthwhile without attracting some opposition," said Lord Adonis, who attempted to diffuse the spat during a conference in the region on Friday to review progress made since his report was published in April.
The MPs feared that an emphasis on creating new structures - such as a combined super authority from Durham to Northumberland - would do little to tackle the blight of unemployment.
Lord Adonis denied that Labour was split on the plans. He said: "There has been very strong support from local authorities in the North-East - all of whom are Labour - for its emphasis on transforming skills, transport and economic development.
"There has also been near-universal support from the business community, so I am strongly encouraged."
He said his aim to double the number of apprentices and take control of skills spending budgets from Whitehall would be boosted by the formation of a super authority, which is expected to be in place by April.
"The structural changes are for a purpose. Fewer than 1 in 10 school leavers in the North-East goes on to an apprenticeship. That is a scandalous state of affairs," added Lord Adonis, who said the debate on spending cuts would continue in the run up to the next General Election.
"As a Labour politician I am opposed to the scale of cuts in the region and their impact. But it was not in my remit to change Government policy on the cuts.
"There are critical challenges facing the region which the report seeks to address now."
The government has said £500m could be handed to the North-East on the provisio the region can raise a matching sum from private sources.
Paul Woolston, chairman of the North-East Lep which commissioned the report, was surprised to hear the negative comments after receiving "strong support" from the MPs at a meeting to discuss the report on Tuesday evening.
"It is absolutely essential that MPs hold organisations like the Lep to account. I welcome that," added Mr Woolston. "Where I take issue with them is their criticism of the report itself which I believe is a superb piece of work that is wholly evidence-based."
Mr Woolston opened the Driving Forward Economic Growth Conference at the Centre for Life in Newcastle by outlining recent achievements, such as the appointment of Professor Roy Sandbach to head the Lep's innovation strategy.
In addition, North East Lep has become one of only three in the UK chosen by Vince Cable to pilot innovative new approaches to skills development funding.
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