in the back
Port barrel politics
Freeports , Issue 1544
NORTH-EASTERNERS hoping for a freeport incorporating Newcastle's airport, the Port of Tyne and Sunderland's Nissan car factory plus other sites may fear investment will now be sucked out of their patch instead after the bid missed out in favour of nearby Teesside. The reasoning behind the decision could make them even more miffed, however.

teesport.jpg
WINNING WAYS: Teesport, Teesside -- well aligned with Tory interests
The government's “decision-making note”, released after the eight winning bids were announced, shows that after some were quickly ruled out (one because, er, “no port was included”), the remaining 14 were scored for performance on trade and investment, regeneration, innovation, pace of delivery and private sector involvement. Teesside scored “medium” on three of these and “high” on two; North East England edged it, though, with two of each plus one “medium/high”.

Then, however, came the fudge. Chancellor Rishi Sunak and communities secretary Robert Jenrick got together to make the final selection. After declaring interests (Sunak noting that Teesside neighbours his constituency), they decided the Teesside bid, which incorporates a port at Hartlepool (a traditionally Labour seat looking wobbly ahead of a by-election in May) and an airport near Stockton-on-Tees, should leapfrog the North East because of its “stronger alignment with government policy (in particular the Net Zero agenda and the prime minister's recently published 10 Point Plan)”.

Scoring system
Shome mishtake, surely? Environmental factors were already included in the scoring system, and the bidding prospectus (published within a couple of days of Boris Johnson's “10 Point Plan” last November) gave a detailed account of how bids would be ranked that did not allow for such an adjustment.

What Teesside certainly scores highly on is “alignment” with the Tories. Its bid was led by Tees Valley Tory mayor Ben Houchen, who recently claimed to have been “at the forefront of developing the UK's Freeport policy for the last three years, working first alongside Rishi Sunak before he entered government and then taking the lead in driving forward the case”.

He has also brown-nosed Jenrick: it was “thanks to Robert”, drooled Houchen in 2018, when Jenrick was a Treasury minister, that the local development authority had acquired land in Redcar from a bust steelworks. Even Houchen described his efforts as his “Treasury charm offensive”. He and Sunak stayed in contact, the latter's list of official meetings showing they discussed “English devolution” last summer.

'Global Britain'
All this was more than enough to beat the Labour-dominated North East England region (including its Labour regional mayor) in the freeport beauty contest.

The outcome won't harm Houchen's and the Tories' local government election chances come May. Having “shouted from the rooftops and banged down doors across Whitehall and Westminster selling the freeport concept”, he told local press, “now we can take full advantage of Global Britain being a defender of free trade, with the Teesside Freeport powering forward our industrial revitalisation”. And his and Rishi's political careers, he might have added.

PS: Houchen was also boosted by Sunak's choice of Darlington, in his mayoral area, for the Treasury North outpost – once again ahead of arguably more suitable but politically less welcoming cities such as Newcastle.

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BEST BESTED
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At long last, the “Shrewsbury 24” have finally had their convictions for picketing offences during the 1972 national builders strike overturned.

OPEN QUESTIONS
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BUNCH OF RANKERS
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EMISSION STATEMENT
The government faces a tricky choice over where it stands on the environmental regulation of aviation and how it measures future carbon emissions.

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