Assembly would not be beneficial
SIR, — I do not believe that an Assembly for the north east of England will be beneficial to the region or its people for a number of reasons, many of which have been aired at some length in your Letters columns. In particular, I dispute the claim made by its proposers that the Assembly will bring government closer to the people. I believe that the services carried out presently by district councils such as planning, housing, litter and rubbish collection are better planned and delivered locally than removed to the county level. However, should the people of the north east vote for a Regional Assembly in the forthcoming referendum, the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed will be presented with a unique opportunity to improve its economic situation by seeking to become part of Scotland again. The town has only been part of England officially since 1835. Before that time, it was described as an independent borough of, but not within the Kingdom of England. Since local government reorganisation in the 1970s, coastal and rural communities have been incorporated in the borough that were never part of Scotland. The dissolving of the Borough Council will allow the various parts of the district to choose their own ways forward to their best advantage. Commentators often remark on the financial advantages that Scotland currently enjoys in the form of the Barnett Formula and other funding packages. Berwick certainly deserves to benefit from a potential boost to its development that a reinstated Scottish identity could secure. I very much doubt that Berwick will feature greatly in the strategic plans of the North East Assembly, or even of a new Northumberland Council struggling to get to grips with massively increased responsibilities in a huge rural county. Berwick’s unique history and superb tourism assets will surely be far better appreciated and exploited if the town is restored to Scottish hands. Anyone who has visited Gretna Green, the Gateway to Scotland, will agree that Berwick would offer a far higher quality visitor experience on crossing the border. Would Berwick benefit more from having its regional headquarters at St Boswells or in Durham City and its national capital 60 miles or 350 miles distant? There would, of course, be major hurdles to overcome, among which differences in law and education are prominent. However, the advantages could be substantial. People like myself who live in Tweedmouth or Spittal would have to decide whether to retain the link with the town which was established in the 17th century or to remain in England. This may all seem fanciful, but I am pleased to note the reports that serious consideration has been given to this idea at least on the Scottish side of the border. I have been in favour of the town’s return to Scotland for some time, but it is not a practical proposition while the borough exists in its current form. Inadvertently, the creation of a Regional Assembly may provide the key to the town being able to decide its own future for the first time in a turbulent history during which it has been treated as a political football.
DEREK SHARMAN, Dean Drive, Tweedmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Vote to save Northumberland
SIR, — I have read with interest the arguments put forward by District Council politicians in favour of two unitary authorities for Northumberland. They would have us believe that all the residents of South East Northumberland are peas out of the same urban pod and that their needs are very different to those of residents in the more rural parts of Northumberland. Can someone explain how the people of Prudhoe,Haltwhistle and Hexham are so different from those in Bedlington, Cramlington or Blyth? We’re told that a single Countywide unitary would be too big and remote but that a rural authority that would cover 97 per cent of the existing County area wouldn’t. Where would the headquarters of this Rural unitary be - County Hall, Morpeth? The County Council, a ‘good’ authority, already provides 85 per cent of services and spends more than 80 per cent of the money allocated to local government in Northumberland. It has the capacity to absorb the remaining 15 per cent of services without disruption. Think of the difficulties that would follow the creation of two education authorities, two Highway authorities, the breakup of the existing Care Trust, the relocation of thousands of staff. We all know that services are bound to cost more in rural areas because of sparse population and greater distances. The County spends £5 million on schools and school transport in South East Northumberland but £77 million in the rural areas. Rural highways, of course, cost twice as much to maintain, £20 million as opposed to £10 million. A rural unitary would inherit all of the extra expense without a compensating increase in grant. Professor Michael Chisholm of Cambridge University, who specialises in how much new councils cost, confirms the estimate that a single Unitary for Northumberland will cost £7.3 million less than now whereas two unitaries will cost £4 million more than now. Put another way it will cost the council tax payer in Northumberland £106 more a year by having two instead of one unitary in Northumberland. May I suggest that when you vote you vote to save Northumberland and save yourself at least £106 in council tax every year.
JOHN WHITEMAN, Friend of Northumberland County.
Assembly will make a difference for better
SIR, — “Will it make a difference?” This is the question I have heard most frequently in the referendum campaign. The implication being “will it make a difference for the better?” My answer has always been an emphatic “yes”. I believe it will make a difference because, for the first time ever, the region will have leadership that can talk to Government with the backing of the people of the region. The region will have the powers to make decisions based on priorities assessed in the region and not decided by unknown bureaucrats in London. I fought my first election in 1964 and included in my election address a call for a dual carriageway from Newcastle to Edinburgh and from Newcastle to Carlisle. Today I would add the A66 and the A69 to the list, and for good measure from Carlisle to Stranraer, so that the region can benefit fully from the growing Irish economy. This is just one example where the region has been held back by Whitehall’s lack of vision. The present system of representation by un-elected quangos is not realising the full potential of the region. The North East is still at the bottom of the regional league table. I believe an elected regional authority can make the difference for better and will be voting “yes” on 4th November.
DR GORDON ADAM, Palmersville Great Lime Road Forest Hall Newcastle upon Tyne, NE12 9HN. via e-mail. Undercover Elephant Alert
No matter what the vote, Assembly will be formed
SIR, — With regards to the Regional European Assembly for the North East. I’d like to offer you this prediction — no matter how the citizens vote on this issue, the Assembly WILL be formed. We have no genuine choice in this matter, because it’s the will and the directive of the EU to create these Assemblies as part of their plans for the future of Europe. Like it or not, we’re part of Europe now, and we have to bend to the will of the EU and their plans. Until we some how manage to remove ourselves from the EU we’ll continue to be manipulated, whether we like it or not, and no matter how far they wish to go. As ordinary citizens we have no GENUINE say in the direction of the EU, or our part within it. The EU is extremely complex and rapidly becoming more so, plus it’s rife with corruption, and it’s virtually impossible for ordinary citizens to access the EU to find out ANYTHING about its policies or plans for us. The NE European Assembly is a FAR WIDER issue that local citizens are being told — it’s not simply a small local issue, it has massive implications and is all about the EU and our submission to the EU. As a matter of principle, everyone who has doubts about the EU and our involvement with it should vote NO to the Assembly, even though it won’t do any good, at least it will show politicians how ordinary citizens feels about being manipulated by and dominated by the EU.
J HARPER, Berwick-upon-Tweed. via e-mail. They are already there Mr. Harper
Published on Friday, October 15th 2004
WITH just under a month to go before the result of the regional government and local government referendum is announced.I can understand why readers of the Courant may hope this time passes quickly.However, last week’s district council press release aimed predominately at the Northumberland weekly press has to be challenged for its inaccuracies.To accuse the county of concealing cuts in services until after the referendum is untrue.Indeed, Tynedale Council is trying to minimise press coverage of the proposals that it is considering to close tourist information centres, bowling greens and public toilets as well as increasing charges for parking, planning and commercial waste.Also to falsely repeat the accusation that all decisions are made by south-east Northumberland councillors, when the person making this comment is based 70 miles away in Berwick seems bizarre to me.When you read this letter I am confident there will be another anti-county council article in the local press emanating from the districts. The districts cannot challenge the fact that council tax bills will be over £100 per household higher if we have two authorities governing Northumberland rather than one and that a rural authority headquarters would still most certainly still be at Morpeth.The results of the referendum will be announced on November 5. There will be plenty of papers with false accusations to burn upon the bonfires near the districts’ offices.
TONY REID,Moor Road,Prudhoe