Rishi Sunak sparks confusion over investigation into Teesworks freeport

The Prime Minister has sparked confusion about whether or not the Government has launched in investigation into the UK’s largest freeport.

Rishi Sunak suggested that Communities Secretary Michael Gove had “already announced” an investigation into the Teesworks project in the north east of England, when asked about it at Prime Minister’s Questions.

But when approached for clarity on the matter, Downing Street said it was passing on queries to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The department is yet to respond to questions about the investigation.

The claim led to confusion in the Commons, with Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough, suggesting that parliamentarians were “in the dark” about whether the investigation had been launched.

The Teesworks freeport is aimed at regenerating a 4,500 acre site which used to house the Teesside Steelworks, and creating new jobs for the region.

But it has become mired in accusations of wrongdoing, including from local Labour MPs, after questions were raised about the administration of the project.

Shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy and the Labour chairman of the Commons Business and Trade Committee, Darren Jones, have both called for a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation into the site.

Conservative leadership bid
Rishi Sunak (left) speaks with Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, during a visit to Teesside Freeport, Teesworks, in Redcar (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The NAO investigation can only be launched if it is requested by the Government.

At the start of Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree with his friend the Tees Valley Mayor that the National Audit Office must investigate the Teesworks affair?”

Mr Sunak replied: “The Levelling Up Secretary (Mr Gove) has already announced an investigation into this matter.

“But what I would say, it is just the same old Labour.

“All we get, after years of neglect, it is the Conservatives that are delivering for Teesside.”

Raising a point of order, Mr McDonald later said: “The Secretary of State has not responded to the request last week for a National Audit Office investigation from the shadow secretary of state, the Member for Wigan (Ms Nandy), or from the chair of the Business and Trade Committee (Mr Jones).”

“We are in the dark.

“Can you advise how we can seek clarity from the Prime Minister on when this investigation was ordered?

“And on what terms?”

Deputy Commons Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing called on ministers to pass on the Labour MP’s concerns, adding: “There is no doubt that what is actually done should accord precisely with what is said has been done.”

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