Debates between Jill Mortimer and Andy McDonald during the 2019 Parliament

Middlesbrough Development Corporation

Debate between Jill Mortimer and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 14th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I do not share his confidence, and I will set out the reasons why the structure that has been set out is incredibly dangerous. I share his observations about how Middlesbrough Council has been run of late. I will come back to that, but perhaps it is shared territory for us.

Critically, however, the council will have no say on how any development goes ahead or how decisions are made. That is more akin to a protection racket than to good government. Those decisions about development will be made not by the council, but by an unelected board appointed by Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley Mayor. He will decide who goes on the board, not the people of Middlesbrough or its elected council.

Much is said about devolution, whereby power and resources should be pushed down and be in the gift of the most local possible form of democratic representation. Here, the opposite is being proposed. This is not devolution; it is gangster politics, taking power and control away from the people, while the elected independent Mayor of Middlesbrough and his Tory deputy will be on the board. It seems—

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) (Con)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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Let me finish the point. It seems that they will be there in a personal capacity, whether they remain in office or not; it is not clear. The Mayor of Middlesbrough, Andy Preston, did not attend the vote by which this decision was made. He was advised by the council’s monitoring officer that he could not attend because of his own personal pecuniary interests.

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way now that he has made his point?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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I am only halfway through, but—

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I want to correct what he has just stated. He has described this as gangster politics. In actual fact, those places on the board will belong to whoever is democratically elected as Mayor and deputy Mayor. If a Labour Mayor and deputy Mayor are democratically elected come May, they will take those places on the board.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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Let us deal with all the rest of them; I am just about to do that very thing.

I was talking about a conflict of interest that the Mayor of Middlesbrough now has. The geographical boundary of the MDC takes in an area called Middlehaven and vast swathes of the town centre, and it includes an area of the town where Mr Preston owns or has owned property. According to the latest Tees Valley Combined Authority register of members’ interests, Mr Preston owns vast swathes of land and properties on both banks of the River Tees—well over 50 properties in total. Clearly, the decisions that the MDC board makes could have a direct bearing on any increase in value of any such interests, and they could potentially directly and financially benefit him.

In local government and in all public institutions, the greatest of care has to be taken regarding such potentially conflicting pecuniary interests. That is why Mr Preston was advised not to attend a vote at the crucial meeting. There is an obvious conflict of interest, and the question arises: if he cannot vote on the creation of such a corporation, how can he possibly lead on a letter to countermand that very vote and then serve on the board? It is utterly farcical; it is almost as though we have gone back to living in medieval times, with wealthy feudal landlords controlling political power over their lowly subjects without any proper democratic processes of accountability.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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My hon. Friend clearly shares my concerns about how development corporations are being managed on Teesside, with joint ventures being created and then used as vehicles to transfer hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of public assets to private companies, and all behind doors and in secret. Does he fear, as I do, that the new Middlesbrough and Hartlepool development corporations could see more of the same—deals made in private to transfer public assets to private companies?

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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No, I am afraid that that is not how it works; I respond to interventions.

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer
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I wanted to intervene on the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) because he mentioned my constituency.