Home rule blow
Sep 24 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal
Business leaders last night dealt a blow to regional assembly campaigners by saying they cannot endorse devolution plans because they would not help North-East firms.
At the CBI's final council meeting before the referendum, members concluded the 10 challenges over powers and costs put to the Government have still not been met.
The CBI will not give a formal recommendation to its members to vote `no' when ballot papers go out next month. But chairman Rod Taylor admitted the council's sceptical view is likely to sway business chiefs.
The move is a blow to the `yes' campaign, as it cites economic prosperity and more jobs as two of the major benefits of an assembly. Privately, however, devolutionists are relieved as they had braced themselves for an outright recommendation to vote `no'.
Mr Taylor said: "We confirmed our position that decentralisation of decision making would make a difference. However, from our discussions that's not effectively what's on offer.
"The 10 key challenges have still not been addressed despite a number of meetings with John Prescott.
"Therefore, it's difficult for us to see how the current proposal will benefit business within the region."
The CBI's scepticism provoked a furious response from Regions Minister Nick Raynsford on a visit to the North-East last month, when he accused director Steve Rankin of being out of touch with business and taking "a negative view for political purposes". The organisation will continue to press Government for more decentralisation in the event of either a `yes' or `no' vote in November.
But not all council members backed the CBI stance. Bob Coxon, a `yes' supporter, said: "I firmly believe that an elected North-East regional assembly will benefit the business world in the North-East and am convinced that it will have a beneficial economic impact throughout the region."
Meanwhile, the Forum of Private Businesses, a pressure group representing more than 1,000 small firms in the North-East, came out staunchly against an assembly. Chief executive Nick Goulding said: "What is on offer for the North-East is no more than a pathetic imitation of devolution, a half-baked dog's dinner."
A spokesman for North East Says No said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that there is zero enthusiasm in the business community for an assembly."
Saturday, September 25, 2004
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