By Martin Walker
The Conservative candidate for the Sedgefield seat in the General Election has criticised Labour man Phil Wilson over claims he “led the campaign to bring Hitachi to Newton Aycliffe”.
Former Army tank commander Scott Wood, from Darlington, is running against Mr Wilson to be our MP on 7th May.
He says the Labour candidate, who has been Sedgefield’s MP since succeeding Tony Blair in 2007, is wrong to claim credit for Hitachi’s arrival on Aycliffe Business Park.
Mr Wilson led the Back On Track campaign when the Coalition Government threatened to scrap the Labour Government’s Intercity Express Programme (IEP), culminating with a petition being taken to Downing Street.
The Coalition eventually signed off the IEP, and Mr Wilson has since been credited by Hitachi and Merchant Place Developments boss Geoff Hunton – the man who first persuaded Hitachi to choose Aycliffe – for “leading a campaign which transcended party political differences”.
Conservative candidate Mr Wood has criticised him for trying to take credit, while the Tory’s Rail Minister has also weighed in.
But Mr Wilson has hit back, saying the history of his Back On Track campaign can’t now be “rewritten”.
Mr Wood said: “Of course Labour played a part in attracting Hitachi to the North East but to claim credit is overstepping the mark and stretching the truth.
“The initiative was spearheaded by Durham County Council with active support from local leading Conservatives including Lord Bates, Darlington Conservative group and local media.
“The decision ultimately rested with a Conservative Transport Secretary.”
Conservative Rail Minister Claire Perry added: “It was this Conservative government that awarded the £4.5 billion contract for the Intercity Express Programme, seeing Hitachi assemble an intercity fleet of 92 complete trains at Newton Aycliffe, seeing 730 skilled jobs created with a further 200 jobs during construction of the factory itself.
“Thanks to the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan, we can invest in rail and infrastructure and businesses are investing in the UK, meaning more jobs for people.”
Hitachi Rail Europe has previously placed on record the role Mr Wilson played in helping to bring the IEP to fruition, despite being in opposition, while Mr Wilson has also been a prominent part of Hitachi’s many high-profile events over the last two years.
At the 30th anniversary party of the Sedgefield Constituency in November 2012, in the evening’s official programme, Alistair Dormer, Hitachi’s Chairman and CEO, wrote: “Even before our contract with the Department for Transport was signed, the tremendous support we received from so many organisations and individuals in the region convinced us that our decision was the right one.
“In particular, Phil Wilson led a campaign which transcended party political differences to ensure that the interests of his constituency were heard in Westminster.”
In reply to Mr Wood’s claims, Mr Wilson said: “Hitachi selected Newton Aycliffe as the site for their train building factory in 2009, and the last Labour Government made Hitachi the preferred bidder for the Inter City Express Programme.
“The present Coalition government had to be persuaded of the merit of allowing the project to go ahead.
“The campaign I led ensured the Government saw the economic importance of the Hitachi project to the North East.
“I don’t believe anyone in South Durham will go along with any rewriting of the history of the campaign and the part I and local people played in it.”
The other candidates in the Sedgefield seat at this year’s General Election on 7th May are Stephen Glenn (Lib Dems), John Leathley (UKIP) and Greg Robinson (Green Party).