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Keir Starmer calls on government to answer Teesworks questions after MP alleges ‘large-scale corruption

The Labour leader has called on the government to answer questions about Teesworks after an MP claimed there was industrial-scale corruption.

Sir Keir Starmer was answering questions at Middlesbrough College as part of a visit to meet with health and social care students. He fell short of calling for a full investigation into Teesworks or agreeing with Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald that industrial-scale corruption had taken place.

In response to Mr McDonald, Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen called him a coward and stated the claims were untrue. While a Teesworks spokesperson said the MP should submit a formal criminal complaint to the police if he believes offences have been committed.

On Thursday(20 April)

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald outside the town’s train station Image: LDRS

, Mr McDonald, citing a Private Eye investigation, said: “A huge site acquired by the public body, South Tees Development Limited, for £12m in 2019, subsequently had hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer investment. Any future sale had to be on market terms.

“We now know that private developers exercised their option to purchase for a mere £1 an acre plus inflation, paying £96.79 in December 2022. I have the transfer Mr Speaker. The only economic growth being delivered is into the accounts of Ben Houchen’s pals, Messrs Musgrave and Corney, for a bargain of £100 will benefit to the tune of £100m, all the while, the state remains on the hook for the ongoing environmental costs.

“Will the Leader of the House [Penny Mordaunt] ensure that the DLUHC Secretary comes to that despatch box and sets out what plans the government has for a full investigation into this industrial-scale corruption.”

Ms Mordaunt said she would write to the relevant Secretary of State before praising Mr Houchen’s work in the region.

Now, Sir Keir has said: “I don’t think anybody could read about what has happened at Teesworks and not conclude that there are very serious questions that need to be answered. I think Andy was absolutely right to raise this in Parliament as he did.

“I think the ball is now very firmly in the government’s court, Andy has put it there yesterday, to say these are serious questions that need to be answered. The government needs to come forward and answer them, it’s not good sitting on your hands.”

When pushed on whether he thought there should be an investigation, he said: “I think the questions that need to be answered need to be answered by the government and the sooner they get on with that the better.”

However, the Conservatives in the region have hit back at Mr McDonald’s comments. Mr Houchen said: “Andy McDonald is a coward. I dare him to repeat these claims outside of the Parliament. He won’t though because he knows he’d be sued for defamation immediately for these untrue claims.

“If he’s not stopping £18m for his own town centre in Middlesbrough, he’s trying to close Teesside Airport, stop the development of the Teesside Freeport or he’s trying to smear the amazing work that so many local people are working so hard to deliver at Teesworks.”

Conservative Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke said: “Remediating the vast Teesworks site so that it can become home to thousands of good new jobs in the clean energy sector is one of the most complex challenges underway in the whole of the UK, and requires hundreds of millions – transformative investment of the kind we never saw when Labour were in power.

“Ben Houchen has used his powers to leverage the huge support he has received from the Government to unlock additional investment from the private sector so that this work can be delivered as successfully and as swiftly as possible.”

A Teesworks spokesperson said: “In the past, Messrs Musgrave and Corney have treated Mr McDonald with the contempt that he deserves, but his recent speech under Parliamentary Privilege was a step too far, and an abuse of power.”

They went on to add: “It is obvious from his comments that Mr McDonald believes that criminal offences have been committed by all three men, as well as the professional officers of the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), and the legal advisors involved in the contractual agreements in relation to the Teesworks land site – if this is the case, then Mr McDonald should make a formal criminal complaint to the Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, and provide any evidence of a criminal nature, so that an investigation can occur without delay.

“Messrs Musgrave and Corney would be willing to assist any investigative process, as they have nothing to hide, and are keen to expose Mr McDonald’s motives, which are driven by vengeance, mischief and a desire to destroy Teesworks to advance his own political ambitions.”

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