Labor questioned why the National Audit Office (NAO) was not tasked with leading the inquiry into misconduct allegations linked to Teesworks in north-east England, as the region’s Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen had originally requested.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove instead ordered an independent inquiry, with his department announcing the members of the panel on Wednesday.
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It was just minutes before MPs began debating Labour’s attempt to secure the release of all documents, advice and correspondence with ministers and senior officials relating to the inquiry’s decision, including why the review was not led by the NAO should be.
MPs voted 166 to 272, with a majority of 106 to reject the Labor proposal.
Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Tory MPs have voted to cover up why the government took the astounding decision to block a fully independent investigation into the serious allegations, opting instead to suspend the terms of their choose your own review.”
“It is a disgrace that the Conservative Party voted to deny the people of Teesside the answers they deserve when it comes to using hundreds of millions of pounds of public money and transferring 90% of an asset that is a vital one is part of Teesside, goes into private hands.’ civic heritage.’
According to the government, Angie Ridgwell, chief executive of Lancashire County Council and previously director-general at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has been appointed lead assessor.
She is assisted by Quentin Baker, Solicitor and Director of Law and Governance at Hertfordshire County Council, and Richard Paver, previously First Treasurer of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Concerns about the Teesworks scheme were previously raised in the House of Commons by Labor MP Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough), who alleged “truly shocking industrial-scale corruption” related to the funding in Teesside.
Communities Secretary Lee Rowley previously told the House of Commons: “These are serious matters, serious allegations have been made and it is incumbent on all of us to resolve the situation as quickly as possible for the good of Tees Valley.”
“The review we have put in place will do this and we look forward to reporting on it in our usual manner at the earliest possible date. (MPs) should welcome and support that.”
He added: “Ministers and officials have so far seen no evidence of corruption, wrongdoing or illegality.”
On review, Mr Rowley said: “All Members of this House should support their important work so that they can proceed swiftly and free from partisan comment.”
He asked why Labor is “all of a sudden so keen on NAO-led inquiries into local government when it wasn’t before”.
He added: “The cold hard facts are this: The Mayor of Tees Valley has made great strides in creating jobs, growth and economic development over the past half decade in an area that is currently on the upswing.
“Tees Valley is thriving again thanks to the Conservative leadership there and the dedicated and constructive Conservative MPs there and on this particular matter the Government has agreed to a request for a review from the Mayor.”
The government had previously stated that it was not the job of the NAO to audit or scrutinize individual local government bodies.
Labor MP Julie Elliott said there “cannot be any reliance on the pretense of an independent inquiry”.
The Sunderland Central MP told the House of Commons: “Conservative ministers and the Mayor’s cavalier approach to transparency and accountability are now hurting Teesside’s investment prospects.”
She added: “There can be no confidence in the claim of an independent inquiry being touted by a Foreign Secretary (Mr Gove) who, in his own words, has already found his Conservative colleagues innocent of all charges.”
Conservative MP Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) said: “We all know why we are here. This was all because of the allegations made by the MP for Middlesborough (Mr McDonald) and interestingly he will not repeat those allegations outside of this Chamber and the immunity that comes with it.”
She added: “Unfortunately, the opposition benches again seem keen to spread bizarre rumors and baseless allegations for their own political ends.”
“By casting the shadow of doubt over the Teesworks site, they know this will deter investors… once again they want to keep the poor poor.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “I welcome the Government’s approval of my request for an independent review of the Teesworks project, including the involvement of the NAO.”
“As someone whose primary responsibility as Tees Valley Mayor is to attract investment and create jobs for local people, I felt that recent Labor Party misinformation and Andy McDonald’s abuse of Parliamentary privileges were beginning to have a negative impact Impact on Teesside’s prospects and the local community.
“I believe an independent review is needed to show investors, businesses and the local community that what has become, and continues to be, an incredible project for jobs and investment in our region, there is none corruption, no wrongdoing or illegality.”
“I look forward to the outcome in due course and will not comment further until the independent review is complete to allow the independent panel to carry out its work without influence or favour. My officials stand ready to provide any information requested as part of the independent review.”
https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/23574926.tory-mps-defeat-bid-release-government-papers-teesworks-inquiry/?ref=rss Tory MPs reject attempt to release government papers on Teesworks inquiry