Minister in charge of Freeport policy despite Teesside 'conflict of interest'
Jacob Young, a junior minister in the Department for Levelling Up, has this week recused himself from any work involving British Steel following the company’s intention to create “green steel” at Teesworks, the UK’s largest Freeport.
However, it is understood that Mr Young is still responsible for Freeport policy as part of his ministerial portfolio, raising questions over whether he still has a conflict of interest on policies that could impact the Freeport in his area.
It comes after he recused himself from all decisions involving Teesworks after he became a minister on 18 September following the departure of Dehenna Davison.
The Redcar MP previously sat on the board of the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) between May 2020 and 18 September this year, as well as on the Teesside Freeport Board between May 2021 and 27 September 2023.
In a post on Facebook earlier this week, Mr Young said that he was “buzzing” for his “mate, Ben Houchen” to deliver the boost to Teesside with potential new steel jobs.
“I’m really proud to have played a small part in getting this over the line,” he added.
The closure of the blast furnaces in Scunthorpe could cost up to 2,000 jobs according to union analysis.
The Chinese-owned company plans to replace them with two electric arc versions if it gets “appropriate support from the UK Government”, one of which would be built at its Teesside plant.
Electric furnaces are used to recycle steel scrap into new steel.
The Teesworks Freeport has been dogged by accusations of corruption, wrongdoing and illegality following accusations that local businessmen were set to benefit from profits of the project despite a lack of evidence that they invested.
Michael Gove announced in May that there would be an independent review into dealings of the Freeport in a bid to make sure that hundreds of millions of pounds of public money were not misspent.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow levelling up secretary, said: “The Government has serious questions to answer about why a Minister who stands to benefit from the government’s Freeport policy and who was at the heart of decision-making during the Teesworks scandal, remains personally responsible for Freeports policy.
“Jacob Young has already admitted a conflict of interest, and there is already a departmental investigation into the murky events at Teesworks.
“His continued involvement in Freeports policy is deeply inappropriate given his conflict of interest.
“If he fails to step back from Freeports policy ahead of the Autumn Statement, these ministerial responsibilities should be relinquished.”