Speaking as a Government Minister Peter Hain breaks the rules of the perdah period...but in his usual, arrogant way, what do rules matter.
The Electoral Commission's Head of Referendums has been informed and we expect them to take action...but should we hold our breath?
'It's worth a few bob'
Oct 11 2004
By Zoe Hughes, The Journal
Voters in the North-East should think big and bold about the future of a regional assembly and not worry about the "few extra bob" it will cost to run it, says Cabinet minister Peter Hain.
In an exclusive interview with The Journal, the Commons Leader and Welsh Secretary urged voters to brush aside thoughts of the expense of regional government when ballot papers arrive in one week's time.
He advocated they should think of the "big picture" of giving the North-East the power "to punch its weight".
Mr Hain is in Newcastle and Middlesbrough today as part of the Yes campaign, and said people should use the experience of Wales as proof of the success of devolution.
He dismissed criticism of the cost of introducing a regional tier of government, arguing: "This is petty cash compared with the big picture of building a stronger economy and bringing extra social benefits."
As Welsh Secretary for the past two years Mr Hain has led negotiations for greater devolved powers, and is expected to announce new transport powers for Wales in the Queen's Speech next month.
He will use his visit to the region to speak about the benefits of home-rule, and also say the North-East will be left behind Wales and Scotland if voters failed to take their "opportunity of a generation" to say Yes to the assembly on November 4.
"This is a real once-in-a-generation opportunity for the North-East to get its own strong voice for the first time." he said. "It has put Wales on the map as never before. It has given us more clout in Brussels.
"Even those who were sceptical about the assembly in Wales have accepted it has done real good."
Pro-devolutionists have already claimed a North-East assembly could lift the region from the bottom of the health league tables and could have secured the European Capital of Culture bid.
For Mr Hain though, the benefits could also include free bus travel for pensioners and a boost for the regional economy.
"There is a great opportunity for people in the North-East to look at what has happened in Wales and say we don't want to get left behind."
"Since devolution in 1999, the Welsh economy has done better on employment than any other region in England. That is an example of Wales punching its weight."
The Welsh Assembly has been beset with problems since its creation five years ago.
However the number of patients on NHS waiting lists have increased to more than 300,000 this year and the cost of building a chamber extension has soared 450pc to £55m.
"No government is perfect," Mr Hain conceded, adding: "It's not about having a perfect system of regional government or not, it's about having any kind of regional government."
He added "Voting No in the North-East would send out a very bad message which says we want to be stuck in the past instead of going forward to the future.
"This is a great opportunity for the North-East to punch above its weight across Europe and across the world and it would be something really, really fantastic for the region as it would set the pace for devolution for the rest of England."
It is on the issue of cost that No campaigners have repeatedly hit out, with the North East Says No group warning in their logo: "Politicians Talk, You Pay."
Last night a spokesman for the North-East Says No campaign said: "As a wealthy politician, Mr Hain is obviously in a better position than most to dismiss the cost of a `few extra bob' but ordinary people have genuine concerns about higher Council Tax.
"People should look at Wales to see how politicians underestimated the running costs of their Assembly by 177pc, how the number of bureaucrats has risen by over 50pc and how the Welsh taxpayer is picking up the bill for the politicians' spin doctors.
"A Regional Assembly will increase Council Tax but will not have the power to create jobs or employ a single extra nurse, doctor, teacher or police officer. His attempts to scare people into a yes vote are pathetic."
Monday, October 11, 2004
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