PRIME Minister David Cameron says Wearside can be the electric vehicle manufacturing capital of Europe – and pledged support to make it so.
The PM was in the North East to show he would do everything he could to help businesses and create jobs and growth to secure the future of the economy.
His pledge comes as his Coalition Government has come under heavy fire from Labour and campaigners who say the North East in particular is being hung out to dry by spending cuts.
Mr Cameron said Sunderland’s electric vehicle industry – particularly the Nissan Leaf, due to be built in the city from 2013, underpinned by £20million Government grant support – played a vital part in his plans. And he promised further support for the industry.
He said: “There is a huge opportunity for the Sunderland plant – which is so competitive and so productive – to really lead the way on this.
“I think it’s an exciting development, where the Leaf project is one that the whole country can get behind – it’s not just important in the North East. The Government has put a lot of money in to help that.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our country to lead Europe on the manufacture of electric vehicles.
“In terms of infrastructure, what’s needed is incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars – we’ve got that with the £5,000 per car.
“But there’s also a need for plug points and charging points – an infrastructure to support (the vehicles).”
The PM, who visited Nissan when he was Leader of the Opposition, was speaking to the Echo at Newcastle’s Centre for Life after a tour of research facilities and projects.
He also met pupils from St Michael’s Primary School in Durham who were taking part in science workshops in the centre’s Lifelab.
Mr Cameron promised support for businesses in Wearside and the North East, saying he would ensure new firms don’t pay employment taxes on the first jobs they create.
He denied claims the Government is being “unfair” to the north of England, claiming the situation was “absolutely the reverse”.
He also denied the region was being made to suffer more public sector spending cuts, saying his own constituency of Witney, West Oxfordshire, was facing higher reductions than any in the North East.
“There are difficult decisions that have to be made, but we’re being fair,” he said.
“If there’s no prospect of balancing the books, you can’t have confidence in the economy. And with no confidence, you have no growth.”
The Prime Minister also faced about 40 student protesters who gathered in Times Square outside the Centre for Life.
A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after he allegedly kicked a police car.