A COUNCIL leader and an MP have joined forces to lead the fight to keep up to 400 civil service jobs in a North-East town ahead of a meeting with a senior civil servant to make their case.

Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon and Darlington MP Jenny Chapman have drawn up a battle plan to persuade the Department for Education (DFE) to drop proposals to relocate staff based at Mowden Hall, in Darlington, to Newcastle.

The Mowden Hall site has been identified for closure in March next year because of its poor state of repair.

Coun Dixon and Ms Chapman will travel to London on Monday to meet Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the DFE, to outline their case and find out what the civil service would need from an alternative site in Darlington.

A Northern Echo campaign to keep the skilled jobs in Darlington, including an online petition that will be presented to Education Secretary Michael Gove, has attracted strong support from the public.

A meeting held yesterday (Friday, November 23) at Darlington Town Hall was the first opportunity for Coun Dixon and Ms Chapman to draw up plans to relocate DFE staff to other offices in the town, at Lingfield Point and Northgate House.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Chapman said: “I’m feeling more positive. There was a suspicion that the DFE had already made its mind up but the indications at the meeting were that they will consider alternatives within Darlington.

“We will be doing more detailed work on making the options as credible and attractive as possible to the DFE. We are in the early stages but time is of the essence.”

Coun Dixon has also invited Coun Heather Scott, leader of the council’s Conservative group, to travel to London on Monday to show the strength of cross-party support to keep the 400 jobs in Darlington.

He said: “The meeting will give us a chance to set out our stall to the DFE and get a feel for what the department is looking for in a new building to make sure we have the best chance to retain these jobs.

“I’ve invited Coun Scott to show that this is a campaign for Darlington – it’s about jobs, not politics.”

Coun Scott said she appreciated the invitation from Coun Dixon and added: “It’s vital that we keep these jobs in Darlington. We are working together across the political sphere on this campaign.”