On 12 August the Northern Echo ran the headline “Great example of partnerships – National Audit Office backs Teesside success”. Mike Hughes, the Echo’s Business and Commercial editor, explains that “a top level review into how Teesworks is run has given the organisation a clean bill of health”, and goes on “[t]the National Audit Office (NAO) … found that the current joint venture arrangement was “fully in line with the current business plan” originally agreed with government and … the NAO noted that “no material uncertainties on the site exist.””
“Signed off with flying colours”
Sounds like a ringing endorsement of the STDC joint venture partnership with developers, Corney and Musgrave. Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen certainly thinks so, as he tweeted the following:
Mike Hughes, of the Northern Echo, added this comment:
Hughes stopped drooling after about an hour and deleted the tweet. We don’t know why. Maybe someone had a word with him.
But, as for being “signed off with flying colours”, we can’t help but notice that Mike Hughes is a little shy with the details in his article. Much of the more enthusiastic comment comes from an unnamed ‘senior civil servant’ who is quoted as saying “Teesworks is a great example of public and private sector partnerships that could be a model for other problematic sites across the country”. The article goes on to say that the same civil servant had noted that “other sites across the country of a comparable nature have not progressed anywhere near as quickly as Teesworks.”
“Overall satisfactory conclusion”
Now. That comes as something of a surprise, as it is a bold civil servant that would play fast and loose with the civil service code of conduct, that demands impartiality among other things. But this one seems to think that doing rentaquote on Teesworks is worth jeopardising a successful career for. Rentaquote then added, bizarrely, that “there was an “overall satisfactory conclusion” regarding the joint venture arrangement”, which is not quite ‘signing off with flying colours’.
A more measured version
But then it starts to get even more bizarre. On Sunday evening, Middlesbrough MP, Andy McDonald, who appears only to have seen the more measured version of events published in The Gazette, tweeted the following:
So, what, precisely, inspired the hapless business editor of the Northern Echo to start waxing eloquent the achievement of Teesworks? The simple answer is that, whatever the National Audit Office has had to say about it, it is unpublished. And Houchen PR has previous when it comes to unpublished reports.
A previous unpublished report
Readers may remember Houchen’s dash to Dorries in 2021 to have the Grade II listing for the Dorman Long Tower rescinded, to pave the way for its demolition. At the time, the justification for destroying it was that an unpublished civil engineers’ report had concluded that the building was in such poor condition that it would take several million to repair it, and that it would collapse within twenty years anyway. Houchen’s erstwhile cheerleader, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council leader, Mary Lanigan, was quoted as saying that it was in such poor condition that scaffolding could not be erected round it. That engineers’ report was not published until after the demolition had taken place, and it turns out that it did not say anything of the kind.
So, this time, while the credulous Mike Hughes might be prepared to be taken in by the TVCA press release, we should be more cautious, and demand that Houchen produce his anonymous senior civil servant to verify his account.
As for the Northern Echo, the editor may do well to take a more critical look at Mike Hughes’ set pieces of Houchen Euphoria in future. Hearsay in the headlines does not enhance the paper’s credibility.