Minister announces Red Wall recruitment drive in latest cash injection for Tory areas

The government’s international trade department is to recruit 100 people at a new site in Darlington, in the latest cash injection for a Tory marginal seat.

The vacancies at the so-called “UK Trade and Investment North” campus are to be advertised in the coming weeks.

And one of the department’s five directors general will be based permanently in the city, with the final headcount expected to rise to 500 by 2030.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is feted in the Conservative party for his role in turning large areas of Labour territory blue, described the investment as “a huge coup for our region”.

But the decision to move the jobs comes as the government faces a legal battle over startling claims it is targeting state investments to favour politically marginal constituencies.

Boris Johnson is facing a corruption legal battle over whether his party has been funnelling taxpayer cash into Tory areas to give it a political advantage.

The High Court will decide whether the PM’s separate £4.8bn “Levelling Up Fund” unlawfully and systematically sent cash to areas considered to be “of political benefit to the Conservative party”.

Judges agreed to hear a legal challenge brought by the Good Law Project, stating: “The grounds are arguable.”

The House of Commons’ cross-party Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office have both cast doubt on the selection process for that fund.

Forty out of the first 45 schemes to be approved under it had at least one Conservative MP. One study by Royal Holloway University found that there “is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats”.

In that context, the decision to move jobs to Mr Howchen’s back yard may be viewed with suspicion – with the Conservatives keen to shore up support in their new heartland.

International trade secretary Liz Truss said the latest recruitment drive was part of the government wanting to create an “export-led economy we can address geographic inequality and boost growth across the nations and regions”.

But far from being export-led or private-sector led, the announcement shows that so far the government is relying on state investment to bring benefits to areas like Darlington.

In fact, UK exports to Europe saw a post-Brexit slump that is only in recent months starting to fade. Despite government rhetoric, exports to other parts of the world have failed to show significant growth.

The government ultimately intends for 50 per cent of senior civil service jobs to be based outside London and has already announced relocations to Belfast, Stoke and Edinburgh.

The latest UK Trade and Investment North jobs will be based at a new economic campus alongside civil servants working for the Treasury, business department, communities ministry, and the Office for National Statistics.

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