A £10million fund to create 2,000 jobs is the promise from the leader of Northumberland Conservatives ahead of next year’s elections.
The scheme was unveiled by Coun Peter Jackson at a jobs summit at LYNX Fishing in Alnwick.
The event was attended by Sir John Hall and North East Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive James Ramsbotham, as well as other local business representatives.
Coun Jackson explained that a Conservative-controlled county council would create a Northumberland Jobs Fund, a £10million pot over the four-year term of the authority, to lend up to £10,000 per job created.
The jobs would have to be permanent full-time posts in the county, with a preference for high-skilled roles.
The politician said it would be paid for through some of the more than 800 property assets in the council’s ownership.
Coun Jackson said that at any one time 56 per cent of the buildings were empty and their last valuation put the total at £680million, while the bill for running them all stood at £13million.
The council has already agreed to sell off £15million of assets in the coming years.
“If we create the fund, it will pay back to the council and the community many, many times over,” said Coun Jackson.
“We are saying that you sell some of that property, save on the overheads and put that money into a fund to create jobs in Northumberland.”
Coun Jackson explained that the fund could develop into a bank and attract private funding, which would lead to a multiplier effect.
The possibility of equity investment was also raised.
Those at the summit broadly welcomed the initiative.
However, the county council’s ruling Liberal Democrat administration has dismissed the proposals, saying they are impossible to deliver.
Council Leader Jeff Reid said: “This is just another in a long line of cheap stunts.
“The headline numbers sound superficially nice, but when you actually look at the proposal you see that there is precious little detail and that it would, as is usually the case with the Conservatives’ ideas, actually be impossible to deliver in practice.
“There are so many problems with this idea that it’s difficult to know where to start. Who would be appointed to decide where the money was spent? How can the Conservatives guarantee that jobs last after their funding runs out? Are the Conservatives not aware that the council, through the regeneration arm we set up, has just been awarded some £11.75m of Government funding for job creation?”
Coun Reid also warned that it will be difficult to find buyers for the buildings.
“Selling bulldings off at below market value for a bit of short-term cash to fund this scheme might be attractive on the face of it, but in the long-term it would be completely unsustainable — a thoroughly reckless thing to do, especially in this economic climate,” he said.
The jobs summit also saw discussions about the need for leadership in the business community to improve co-ordination.
Sir John Hall said: “We are suffering from a lack of leadership politically in this area. We’ll only get change if we have money, leadership and powers.”
Representatives from Alnwick, Berwick and Morpeth chambers of trade attended and raised the issue of car-parking charges.