74% say 'no' to Assembly
Sep 27 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal
Company bosses will vote overwhelmingly against setting up a North-East Assembly, a poll of nearly 900 firms reveals today.
The news is a blow to the Government's devolution plans on the first morning of the Labour Party conference.
The poll, conducted by the North-East Chamber of Commerce, found 74pc of members will vote `no' when ballot papers for the upcoming referendum are delivered next month.
Respondents' chief concerns were the cost of the assembly, the lack of powers over skills and transport, and a fear it would act as a barrier to decision-makers in Whitehall.
It also casts doubt upon claims by assembly backers that its chief benefits will be increasing the region's prosperity and helping job creation.
`Yes' campaigners last night claimed members were given "limited and biased information" by the chamber.
But the chamber's chief executive, George Cowcher, said: "This survey sends a stark warning that a major facet of the North-East community has yet to be convinced that a regional assembly would be a benefit.
"The business sector was willing from the outset to listen to both sides of the debate but it would appear that there is still too little flesh on the bones of the `yes' campaign to convince companies that there is a tangible argument for change.
"The results of this survey should be seen as a challenge for crucial areas of confusion to be clarified. "Only then will business buy in to the merits of an elected assembly."
President Alan Ferguson added: "Personally, I believe we are in a Catch 22 situation. If we vote against an assembly, we will be accused by the Government of not taking this opportunity. But if we say yes, we will get the blame if it is not a success.
"I believe a `no' vote is a vote for the status quo and I do not like the status quo. We have been poorly served by the status quo in the past."
The survey result comes on the back of last week's meeting of the CBI's North-East regional council, which prompted chairman Rod Taylor to issue a statement highly sceptical of an assembly.
However, that was viewed as mildly good news by `yes' campaigners, as he stopped short of recommending a vote against devolution in the referendum. But the `no' camp claimed this result makes business opposition clear.
North-East Says No chairman John Elliott said: "When people cast their vote they should remember that business people are opposed to this assembly and it is these people - not the politicians - that create the jobs in this region.
"Businesses are concerned that an assembly will be all cost and no benefit.
"I am not remotely surprised by the poll results - the only people that will benefit from the assembly are those people that we don't want any more of - politicians and their spin doctors."
Ross Forbes, director of Yes4theNorthEast, said: "The chamber survey is makeshift, badly structured and negatively presented.
"NECC members have been asked to make a decision on limited and biased information.
"Any results the poll produces can hardly be called scientific or representative."
A poll conducted on behalf of the `yes' campaign earlier showed two-thirds of the region will vote `yes'.
CBI North director Steve Rankin said: "This is clearly and emphatic reinforcement of the position which the CBI has taken.
"It certainly gives the lie to those who have suggested that we have been misrepresenting the business viewpoint in this matter.
"This is further evidence that the business community in the North-East is very disillusioned with these proposals."
Monday, September 27, 2004
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