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Fri, 19 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Labour MP Says Ben Houchen Peerage Would be "Two Fingers Up" To Teeside

Ben Houchen, who was elected Mayor in 2017, is facing an independent review after his Teeside regeneration scheme Teesworks. 

4 min read

A Labour MP from the Northeast has accused the Conservatives of "putting two fingers up to the people of Teeside" over reports that Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen could be in line for a peerage in Boris Johnson's honours list, despite allegations of cronyism and wasting public money.

The former prime minister's honours list is expected to drop imminently, with as many as 50 names set to be on there, according to The Times. It has been heavily rumoured that Houchen, an ally of Johnson during his premiership, would be among nominations. Houchen said it was "news to him" when asked about the speculation by the Northern Echo in November. 

But Houchen, who was elected Mayor in 2017, is now facing an independent review following a string of accusations over allocation of public money for regeneration prohects in the area. 

Last month an FT invesigation recently reported that 90 per cent of the company working on the brownfield steel site had been handed over to Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney, two local developers, without "any public tender process". Houchen has claimed the project has been intrusmental in the government's mission to "level up" the North and Midlands and denies any wrongdoing. This week a major port in the area accused Houchen of wasting public funds over legal action he has levelled against it. 

Michael Gove, the Levelling-up Secretary, announced on 24th May an independent review would be launched after "serious allegations of corruption, wrongdoing and illegality have been made".

Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesborough, said suggestions that Houchen could be given a peerage are "about as arrogant as it gets" and accused the Conservative party of favouring its own allies when assigning honours.

"It's in the Tories' DNA. They just don’t care how offensive this is. They’re in charge and they are going to do what they like," he told PoliticsHome

"Houchen told the country he'd called his dog 'Boris' and his elevation has long since been promised and guaranteed.

"They’re essentially putting two fingers up to the people of Teesside. But at some point, the conveyor belt of the Tories putting their unelected chums and their donors into our second chamber has to be brought to a shuddering halt. That day can’t come soon enough." 

He said it was "clear the Tories have seen the "writing on the wall" and are trying to protect their own "blue-eyed boy in the North". 

In April, Houchen defended the project in an interview with the Northern Echo, claiming it had created "thousands of good quality, well-paid jobs".

“If it wasn’t for this public-private partnership, we would not have touched a single part of the steelworks, we wouldn’t have landed a single investment, we would not be seeing construction underway and we wouldn’t be able to look people in the eye and say we’re creating thousands of good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people… and it would still be costing the taxpayer £20million per year,” he said. 

Earlier this week Houchen told the BBC that McDonald was "a liar and a coward" after the Labour MP criticsied the alleged "shocking, industrial-scale corruption" over the ownership and funding of the Teeside project. 

Houchen is among a number of Johnson's rumoured nominations to have raised eyebrows in recent months.

Nadine Dorries, the former Culture Secretary, and Alok Sharma, President of COP26, are anticipated to be offered peerages and will have to step aside from their seats - with both constituencies facing by-elections. It is understood that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will accept the list.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said there should be an "independent body" which looks at peerages and nominations. 

"Rishi is showing weakness. He should have the courage to stop this but he does not stand up to anything."

He felt Birmingham had been "totally ignored" and overlooked for Levelling-up funding and has instead been hit with cuts to local government.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper has also been highly critical of the names speculated on Johnson's list. 

"This honours list feels like Boris Johnson’s last heist, with Rishi Sunak as his willing accomplice," she said. 

"The country will be wondering why a disgraced former Prime Minister is being rewarded on the eve of his punishment."

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