Trade department announces red wall recruitment drive in latest cash injection for Tory marginals

Cash continues to flow as government faces legal challenge over claims investment fund is politically motivated

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 28 August 2021 14:33
Comments
<p>Trade secretary Liz Truss has ordered the jobs to go to Darlington </p>

Trade secretary Liz Truss has ordered the jobs to go to Darlington

The government’s international trade department is to recruit 100 people at a new site in Darlington, in the latest cash injection for a Tory marginal seat.

The vacancies at the so-called “UK Trade and Investment North” campus are to be advertised in the coming weeks.

And one of the department’s five directors-general will be based permanently in the city, with the final headcount expected to rise to 500 by 2030.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who is feted in the Conservative Party for his role in turning large areas of Labour territory blue, described the investment as “a huge coup for our region”.

But the decision to move the jobs comes as the government faces a legal battle over startling claims it is directing state investments to favour marginal constituencies.

Boris Johnson is facing a legal battle over whether his party has been funnelling taxpayer cash into Tory areas in an effort to accrue political advantage.

The High Court will decide whether the prime minister’s separate £4.8bn “Levelling Up Fund” unlawfully and systematically sent cash to areas considered to be “of political benefit to the Conservative Party”.

Judges agreed to hear a legal challenge brought by the Good Law Project, stating: “The grounds are arguable.”

The House of Commons’ cross-party Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have each cast doubt on the selection process for that fund.

Forty out of the first 45 schemes to be approved for it had at least one Conservative MP. One study by Royal Holloway University found that there “is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats”.

In that context, the decision to move jobs to Mr Houchen’s back yard may be viewed with suspicion – with the Conservatives keen to shore up support in their new heartland.

International trade secretary Liz Truss said the latest recruitment drive was part of the government’s aim to create an “export-led economy [by which] we can address geographic inequality and boost growth across the nations and regions".

But far from being export-led or private-sector led, the announcement shows that so far the government is relying on state investment to bring benefits to areas like Darlington.

In fact, UK exports to Europe saw a post-Brexit slump from which they are only in recent months starting to recover. Despite government rhetoric, exports to other parts of the world have failed to show significant growth.

The government ultimately intends that 50 per cent of senior civil service jobs will be based outside London, and has already announced relocations to Belfast, Stoke and Edinburgh.

The latest UK Trade and Investment North jobs will be based at a new economic campus alongside civil servants working for the Treasury, business department, communities ministry, and the Office for National Statistics.

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