A COUNCILLOR has questioned how many jobs are being created at the Teesworks industrial site.

Redcar councillor Chris Jones,  a member of the overview and scrutiny committee at Tees Valley Combined Authority, asked Julie Gilhespie – the organisation’s chief executive – “Where are the jobs?”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Jones described how he had attended a recent careers fair in Redcar and only encountered two employers with connections to the Teesworks site, demolition firm Thompsons of Prudhoe and a company carrying out groundworks, Hartlepool-based Seymour Civil Engineering.

The rest, he said, were learning and training providers and colleges.

Last month Michael Gove, the Government Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities visited Teesworks and made a comparison with the Kevin Coster film ‘Field of Dreams’.

He described Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen as an “economic wonder worker” and said of Teesworks: “[It] is like an English field of dreams, he [Mr Houchen] has built it and they have come”.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen

However Cllr Jones said there weren’t many employers currently advertising jobs at Teesworks.

He said: “There were Thompsons of Prudhoe and the company from Hartlepool who are doing groundworks on the site, but other than that they were all learning providers.

“Okay getting young people their forklift or digger licence is perhaps giving them the skills they need, but to get them into work they need to get the employment over on the Teesworks site.

“Where are all these jobs?

“We know it is going to take time and things are going to grow, but when are the skilled jobs going to become available?”

Ms Gilhespie said there were “long term, highly skilled” jobs on the horizon at Teesworks and referenced the GE renewable energy offshore wind turbine manufacturing plant previously announced – which could be operational in 2023, creating 2,250 jobs – and the Net Zero carbon project also slated for Teesworks.

She said: “There is groundwork preparation and building on the site.

“The former is underway and will probably continue for the best part of ten years.

“There is a career in the construction industry just on that site.

“There are also the long term, highly skilled jobs that will come as a result of businesses investing.

“The first one of those is the GE factory, work to build their factory is due to begin next month.

“There will be others to follow.”

Cllr Jones said he was concerned that specialist workers could be recruited from outside Teesside for any new roles.

Ms Gilhespie said: “The biggest challenge is to be able to upskill our workforce to be able to take these jobs.

“We have started working with BP and BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] and had a workshop this week looking at how we ensure people can train for these jobs.

“What we don’t want to do is wait for a factory to be ready and discover we need how many number of staff, and we don’t have anyone ready for the jobs.

“We are starting that process with GE where we identify exactly what sort of people we need and inevitably we will be working with the colleges and training providers to make sure we have the right courses for them.”

She added: “One of the challenges of working with employers is getting them to think specifically far enough ahead.

“Because they are focused on getting planning permission, getting the factory built and fitting it out, all that sort of stuff.

“That’s great but we need to be getting them to think about it when it is up and running, if it’s engineers, what are they going to do, what roles are they going to get.

“We are having these conversations with forward planning people.”

Earlier this month planning permission was lodged for a new building in the Dorman Point area of Teesworks to house the Teesworks Academy.

The academy’s aim is to help local people upskill to take advantage of future industry at Teesworks and it brings together the likes of Darlington College, Hartlepool College of Further Education, Learning Curve Group, Middlesbrough College Group, NETA Training Group, Redcar & Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and Teesside University.

Masterplan In 2015 the former SSI steelworks based at what is now Teesworks went into liquidation with 3,000 direct and indirect job losses following.

A subsequent masterplan for the site envisaged more than 20,000 jobs could be created from regenerating the area.

Last year the combined authority secured £125m from the Government to redevelop the site, following the submission of a successful business case.

As a result the Government gave up its share in former SSI assets and landholdings it had seized control of, allowing them to transition to local control under the South Tees Development Corporation.

Speaking at the time, former Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Government had “utmost confidence” in Mayor Houchen and local leaders piloting the way forward for the site, and again repeated the 20,000 jobs prediction.

He said: “As the Government hands over control to local people, we have the utmost confidence in the ongoing work by the mayor and local leaders to bring these plans to fruition – boosting the local economy, building back better and creating more than 20,000 highly skilled jobs over the next two decades.”

In March a spokesman for the combined authority said “global investors” were looking at the site after it was designated as a tax zone as part of a successful bid for ‘freeport’ status for Teesside.

Such tax zones bestow various financial benefits over a period of five years on companies locating there including enhanced capital expenditure allowances and employer National Insurance contributions relief.

Meanwhile, a report in August for board members of the South Tees Development Corporation said about 250 enquiries had been received from firms looking to locate to Teesworks, with the majority looking to take advantage of the freeport confirmed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

However the only significant announcement to date has come courtesy of American firm GE.

Job creation at Teesworks and across the wider region has been a bone of contention for critics of Conservative Mr Houchen, who was first elected in 2017 and then re-elected for another four years in May.

Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour’s former candidate for Tees Valley Mayor previously described “more headlines than jobs” on the former SSI site, while the town’s former MP Anna Turley said progress had been “slow” despite the huge amount of taxpayers’ money being invested.

An investment plan delivery update provided to scrutiny members at the combined authority earlier this year said more than 2,500 jobs had been created in the Tees Valley through activity the organisation had funded.

But it also said there had been an overall net loss of a thousand jobs across the region since 2017.

On the eve of his re-election in May, Mr Houchen told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that securing investment and good quality, well-paid jobs for local workers was his “number one” priority.

He said more than 500 jobs had been created at Teesworks with thousands more to come.

The Teesside freeport would also create 18,000 skilled jobs over the next five years and “turbo charge” the Tees Valley economy, Mr Houchen said.