UK towns and cities in scramble to become green bank HQ

Offshore wind turbines
Image caption The new green investment bank will provide funding for new offshore wind farms

From Cornwall to Edinburgh, 32 locations around the UK are anxiously waiting for a government decision that could make a huge difference to them.

They're the places bidding to become the headquarters of a new green investment bank.

On the face of it the bank brings limited benefits.

At most it might generate around 80 direct jobs.

But the reason why so many places are keen to bag the bank is because it will offer far more than that.

Government billions

Any area which gets the bank HQ will find it much easier to market itself to green businesses.

The bank will have up to £3 billion of government money to loan to companies in a range of environmentally friendly sectors.

Companies could find it handy to be located on the bank's doorstep, and that would give any area which got the headquarters the prestige of being seen as a centre for green growth.

Competition is fierce then. In the North East of England alone, there are four bidders - Newcastle, Sunderland, Tees Valley and County Durham.

It's a region which already has a growing green industrial base, and all four of its bidders believe the bank will offer huge opportunities.

But they are all making similar arguments.

They point to the area's history in financial services, the green industries already on site, and the availability of relatively cheap buildings.

And they also believe the North East's economic problems and high unemployment rate help their cause.

Sunderland Central Labour MP Julie Elliott said: "We have the skills and we are in the right place to do this, but the added advantage is we are in the area with the highest unemployment in the country.

"Bringing any jobs to an area like the North East, and in particular Sunderland, has got to be a good thing.

"With any government investment, employment has to a factor in the decision-making."

Multiple bids

Critics though feel the North East might have been better to have got together and tabled one or at most two bids.

In the past regional government offices and development agencies, might have knocked heads together to produce a single bid, but with those gone, individual councils seem to have decided to go their own way.

And Professor David Byrne from Durham University believes that the region could miss out by diluting its arguments into four bids.

He said: "It makes no sense. There might have been a case for a bid from Teesside, and a bid from one of Sunderland, Newcastle or North Durham, but to have multiple bids from one labour market is just daft.

"Those bids are also up against some much better organised areas. Wales has put one bid in for Cardiff, and Greater Manchester is also well organised.

"I think it will be tough for the North East bids because it all looks very fragmented."

There are also questions about just how much the green investment bank will be able to do.

The government believes it could help transform the economy, but green businesses have told me privately that they fear it won't be much better than the existing banks.

Risk-averse banks

The Chancellor George Osborne reportedly wants the bank to makes loans on a commercial basis and not the low interest rates many entrepreneurs would like and need.

In addition, companies fear, the bank could be just as risk-averse as those currently on the high street.

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Not every green business will benefit too as its priorities will be funding renewable energy, offshore wind, waste-to-energy plants and energy efficiency.

There is no mention of electric vehicles, for example.

And Labour and the Green Party have criticised restrictions which will prevent the bank itself borrowing and lending money.

Green MP Caroline Lucas said: "It's not at all clear that this bank can borrow or lend. Without these powers, it would be a fund - that is, a pot of money that, once used up, is gone forever.

"Maybe something still to be welcomed, but not a bank that can recycle the money it receives and so invest it again and again, producing far more benefit over the long term."

None of that though seems to matter much to those competing to host the bank.

They are mad keen to see it come to their area.

The government says it expects to make an announcement about that location within weeks.