Teesworks: Michael Gove denies "interference" with independent investigation

Michael Gove has denied his department has interfered with an independent review of the Teesworks project.

The long-awaited probe was commissioned by Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove, who appointed a three-person panel in June, to investigate following accusations of corruption relating to Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), its subsidiary South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), and the public-private venture Teesworks Ltd, which are responsible for redevelopment of the former Redcar steelworks site.

In a meeting of Parliament’s Business and Trade Committee, Mr Gove gave evidence for their inquiry into freeports and investment zones.

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Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, described issues surrounding the Teesside freeport, saying: “It appears to be a bit of a secretive, murky, dodgy deal, backroom deal, cronyism of the highest order. People making fortunes at the expense of the taxpayer, and I think that needs to be proved wrong.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.

"There's an understanding,” he added, “that there's been some interference from your officials with regards to the initial findings of this review".

Mr Gove replied by referring to the chief executive of Lancashire County Council, Angie Ridgwell, who has been tasked with leading the review into the affairs of TVCA and Teesworks. “I have no reason at all to doubt her integrity, the integrity of her team, or the integrity of officials,” he said.

Responding to the allegation that officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) had interfered with the independent panel’s findings, Mr Gove said, “I can’t believe that our officials would do that.”

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The panel conducting the review was initially expected to deliver its findings in July.

Defending the investigation’s methodology, Mr Gove said: “If we’d had a quick response that ended up with people saying ‘What about this? What about that?’, it needs to be comprehensive so that the points that you and others raised are properly seen to be addressed.”

Committee chair Liam Byrne MP further pressed Mr Gove on the timing of the report’s publication. When asked if a draft report had been submitted to his department, Mr Gove replied, “Not to me, no”. Pressed again to clarify if DLUHC had received a draft of the report’s findings, Mr Gove said, “Not that I’m aware of”.

The Yorkshire Post understands relevant segments of the report have been sent to DLUHC for Maxwellisation purposes, whereby subjects of official reports have the right to fact check references to themselves.

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When asked if DLUHC officials had been involved in making suggestions to Ms Ridgwell’s report, Mr Gove told the committee: “I’m sure it is the case that there have been discussions, but I don’t know what the nature of them are”.

Residents of the Tees Valley take to the polls to vote for their mayor in May, with Lord Houchen seeking a third term in office. When asked by Mr Byrne to confirm the report would be published before purdah - the official campaigning period before the election - Mr Gove refused to do so.

“I can’t force the hand of an independent investigator,” he said.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: "We have not received the final report which is independent of this department. The review was established following allegations of corruption and illegality, and we will publish the report after it has been submitted to the department.”

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