ALEX Salmond last night declared the North East Scotland’s "closest friend" as he defended an increasingly competitive Scottish economy.
In a major speech to Newcastle business leaders gathered in Gosforth, the Scottish First Minister set out why his administration was not to blame for any employment threat that has already seen nearly 2,000 jobs poached from the North East.
Instead, Mr Salmond hit out at the coalition Government’s decision to scrap the multi-million pound development agency One North East, saying it was this decision, not his actions, which had created a situation in which the likes of Amazon opted to be based north of the border.
In a speech at the North East Economic Forum’s annual dinner, the Scottish National Party leader frequently positioned himself as outraged on behalf of the region in the face of spending decisions made by the coalition Government which, he said, unduly benefited the South of England.
Citing research by regional think tank IPPR North, Mr Salmond said it was incredible that major transport spending under the coalition amounted to just £5 per head in the North East.
Looking at the Chancellor’s last autumn statement, Mr Salmond said: "The IPPR [think tank] found that investment in infrastructure as a result was £2,731 per head in London and £5 per head in the North East.
"A fiver in the North East. I’m First Minister for Scotland. If I was to treat any part, any part, of Scotland in that sort of disproportionate fashion, I would not expect to remain first minister for very long."
The minister was pushed on revelations made in The Journal last year that internet bookseller Amazon had ditched plans to open a factory in Tyneside after being offered a £1m business grant from the Scottish government.
Challenged on the issue by the North East Chamber of Commerce’s James Ramsbotham, Mr Salmond said: "I’m first minister of Scotland, it is my job to live and breath fighting for very job.
"The IPPR report said you need an Alex Salmond, but is not the right thing to say here is that we in the North East find a way to have influence?
" I won’t stop fighting for Scotland. The right thing for the North East is to say why do we not have that ability to focus decision making."
Addressing concerns he was here as a competitor taking jobs such as those from Amazon, Mr Salmond said: "I was not the politician who closed down the regional development agency, I did not do that, the coalition did that.
"I am not the man who left the regions of England without the ability to promote their interests."
Offering to work with the region in transport and renewable energy issues, Mr Salmond said a strong North East was good for Scotland.
"The nearest city to Scotland is not Oslo or Dublin, it is certainly not London, it is here [Newcastle].