A North East MEP is urging the Government to overrule attempts by Liverpool City Council to lift restrictions on the use of its cruise terminal.
Conservative MEP Martin Callanan believes that by allowing Liverpool to use its cruise terminal for turnaround calls, the Government could be putting North East jobs at risk.
Since 2010 Liverpool City Council has been lobbying to have restrictions lifted on the use of the terminal, which was built with around £10 million from the UK Government and a £9 million European grant. Funding was given on the condition that it did not compete for lucrative turnaround cruise business with commercially funded operations at other UK ports.
Liverpool City Council initially offered to pay back £5.3 million, but has since offered to pay more in return for the lifting of this condition.
While the Government has yet to approve this, they have pressed ahead with plans to host turnaround cruises by granting planning permission for a temporary baggage handling and check in facility.
Liverpool City Council have also signed an agreement with a cruise ship operator to begin turnaround cruises next month - despite lack of Governmental and European Commission approval.
Commenting Martin Callanan MEP said: “Liverpool City Council is clearly trying to use every trick in the book to bully the Government into rushing through this decision in their favour.
“The Government has not announced the results of its independent review of how much UK grant Liverpool City Council should repay nor released details of the State Aid clearance application to the European Commission which must also take into account the ERDF funding.”
He is now calling for a State Aid clearance process to be implemented, with the opportunity for other parties to present their views to the Commission. Deeming Liverpool City Council’s conduct “thoroughly inappropriate and irresponsible”, he added: “Yet again Liverpool is showing that we are right to keep a very close eye on this issue and insist that the strict state aid rules are applied in full.
“It would be completely wrong for the Government to base a decision on Liverpool prematurely entering into agreements with operators.
“The decision must be fair to all and must see state aid rules applied in full. The Government must not to allow itself to be bullied by Liverpool City Council.”
There has been no suggestion from Liverpool that it will repay the European funds, which were awarded on the same strict basis as the money from the UK.
Mr Callanan added: “The European Commission has a responsibility to enforce the condition of the EU grant. Anything less will set a very dangerous precedent. It cannot be right that the Port of Tyne and others have worked tirelessly to build up their local industries while Liverpool works tirelessly to tear up an agreement it happily entered into, simply because it is no longer convenient.”