GOVERNMENT Ministers have said Sunderland has a “strong case” for an Enterprise Zone to create jobs and attract investment.
City leaders are pushing for Wearside to get one of the next round of Enterprise Zones, which offer incentives encouraging businesses to locate to certain development areas.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who were visiting the region yesterday, both agreed Sunderland had the potential to win such a bid.
“It’s a definite possibility,” Mr Maude said. “There are around 10 Enterprise Zones up for grabs and I think Sunderland would be able to make a compelling case.”
Mr Huhne added: “I think places like Sunderland have a good case. The Government will be considering the case for the next round in consultation with Local Enterprise Partnerships.”
The first 10 of 21 Enterprise Zones were identified after last week’s Budget – including Tyneside and Teesside, and other areas are now in competition to be included in the next round.
Some city councillors have suggested bringing together the Vaux site, Farringdon Row, Stadium Park and the Port of Sunderland to become an Enterprise Zone to boost development.
The zones offer businesses special allowances such as discounts of rates up to 100 per cent and superfast broadband, encouraging them to locate to and create jobs in the areas.
Doxford International and Sunderland Enterprise Park were created under a similar scheme brought in by the last Conservative Government.
Mr Maude was on Wearside visiting Sunderland Home Care Associates in Mowbray Road, Hendon, which he hailed as a model for Big Society public services.
The employee-owned organisation has 360 workers providing social care for more than 650 people.
Mr Maude said: “This co-operative has been very successful – it employs a lot of people, makes the most of resources and provides a high-quality service to people who need it.”
The Coalition has faced criticism for cutting funding which goes to the voluntary sector, while at the same time asking such organisations to do more.
Mr Maude said the sector could not be immune from cuts, but the Government had set up “transition funding” to help some of those struggling.
Mr Huhne was at the Calman Learning Centre in Durham University’s Science Site to officially launch the Durham Energy Institute (DEI).
He also visited Newcastle, where he test-drove a Nissan Leaf electric car.
The DEI was set up in 2009, and the university says it has already established itself as a world leader in research into renewable energy, energy security and the efficient use of energy resources.
Mr Huhne praised the way academics could work with the private sector on potential for low-carbon industries, as well as highlighting the need for changing people’s behaviour when it came to energy use.
He said the North East had a big part to play in the growing “job rich” low-carbon economy.