Great place to live… but
Nov 2 2004
By Evening Gazette
Like many people I have just received a letter asking me to vote Yes for a regional assembly. On the back of the letter is a message from various high profile personalities.
I moved from London to the North-east in 1978 and living here has given my family and myself a better quality of life. Yes it is a great place to live, but No I don't think we need our own regional assembly.
The Yes camp talk about taking decision-power away from Whitehall. What real power will a North East Assembly have?
Will it be like the assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London? Will it be able to give the elderly free health care and free travel? When I asked a certain MP they said No.
The Yes camp say decisions will be taken by local people. Will that mean we won't be needing the services of the MPs?
People in the North-east moan about their councils now and then, but at least they can elect local people who are accountable and live in their communities.
By voting Yes we will only be adding to the bureaucrats in London; by voting No things will be no worse than they are now.
It will save wasting a lot of money and the North-east will still be a great place to live.
COUNCILLOR MIKE FINDLEY (Marske Independent), Secretary, Cleveland Pensioners Forum, Marske
McConnell visit a great help to 'No' campaign in north-east England
The visit of the First Minister, Jack McConnell, to the north-east of England will set back by many years the so-called devolution programme in England (your report, 1 November). Consider the following scenario: suppose that instead of offering devolution to a Scottish Parliament, the United Kingdom government had decided to split Scotland into two EU regions, divided approximately along the Highland line; there would be an assembly for the Highlands in Glasgow, and in Edinburgh for the Lowlands. Also, neither assembly would run its own health and education services, which would be adminstered from London under legislation carried by English MPs. Meanwhile, England is one region, and its First Minister goes to Scotland to sell the benefits of Scottish regional devolution to the people. How do you think the people of Scotland might react to such a scheme? Devolution in England should be to an English Parliament. England is a nation. Mr McConnell is bringing the Union into disrepute.
IAN CAMPBELL Northcote Crescent West Horsley, Surrey
Your report on the current referendum in north-east England places heavy emphasis on the negative effect of the cost of the Scottish Parliament on voters there. While this has certainly been referred to in the course of the campaign, the most important issues for those voting "No" are the anticipated running costs. These, coupled with the perception that what is on offer is fake devolutionwhich will suck up power from local government, resulting in a serious democratic deficit, have been the main issues. If the example of the Scottish Parliament has been an issue in this referendum campaign, it is of the standard of debate and the actors involved at Holyrood, which, we understand, have been a severe disappointment to the Scottish people. Mr McConnell’s visit was a great help to our "No" campaign.
ARCHIE SPEIRS "No" campaign co-ordinator Riding Mill Northumberland
Jack McConnell should keep his opinions to himself where English only matters are involved. There are enough English MPs capable of tearing England apart without his help. He would do well to concentrate on matters Scottish and hopefully reduce the adverse comments on the efficacy of Holyrood that have appeared with such frequency in the press.
LEN WELSH Lenthall Avenue Grays, Essex
WHY are the people wanting a regional assembly having to drag people from outside the area to support their views?
We don't want people coming here telling us what is best for us. Do the Scots or the Welsh want the English to go there and represent them? Of course they don't, so why should we want outsiders here?
What are our MPs supposed to be doing anyway? I always thought that they were paid to represent us. They get good enough money to do it. So why should we want to pay anyone extra to do the same job up here.
I am afraid it is just another scheme where people who work hard for a living will get ripped off by having to pay for someone who will be on over £30,000 a year and maybe putting expenses claims in for up to £35,000 per year, as we have just seen in the news in the last few weeks.
My last point is made to Sting (Echo, Oct 29). Keep your opinions to yourself. You chose to move away and live in the south, so stay there and vote for an assembly where you are. But you probably don't want one down there, though.
- A Whelpton, Stockton.
I AM not in the least bit surprised that a majority of the business elite are against the regional assembly.
A regional assembly would have the powers, in conjunction with regional development agencies, to encourage new and small businesses to start up and be successful.
It would also have the platform to attract business from outside the North-East to invest in this region.
The business elite of this region are worried that they will lose their monopoly of the stagnant economy in the North-East when it is replaced by a new and vibrant economy dominated by new businesses.
Don't be fooled by their concern for this region. They are concerned solely with their own profit and, let's be honest, they have not exactly set this region's economy alight.
- William Hall, Newcastle.
THE North-East assembly now under consideration would be nothing more than an amalgamation of the present local authorities in the area with only their present powers.
Unlike the Scottish and Welsh national assemblies, it would not have even the very limited new powers of these assemblies.
What we really need is an English national assembly, which could represent the interests of the people of England on an equal footing with the Scottish and Welsh national assemblies, and perhaps get things like the Barnett Formula, which unfairly diverts development funds to Scotland, repealed.
The only way that we can ever hope to achieve what should be our true goal, an English national assembly, is by voting no to the present proposal of a powerless local North-East assembly.
- RW Alexander, Darlington.
IN discussions about the regional assembly, one important fact is overlooked, namely that an assembly is part of the European Union plan for political integration, and the end of British independence and self-government.
There are three main planks of the EU plan: a single currency, one constitution, and regional assemblies dividing countries. A Committee of the Regions has existed in Brussels for over 40 years, and the regions' map, carving up Britain, was drawn up in the early 1970s, when John Prescott was working in Brussels. The regions are the same as the European "Parliament" constituencies.
The Committee of the Regions issued a document called "Major Steps Towards a Europe of the Regions and Cities in an Integrated Continent", charting the progress of integration. The committee states: "The Europe of Regions is a cornerstone for the political integration of Europe."
Mr Prescott pretends that having a regional assembly will bring democracy closer to the people. It will do nothing of the sort. It is vital that we in the North-East vote no in the referendum to help preserve our country's independence. London may be some distance away, but Brussels is much further; we have no say in the election of those bureaucrats.
- Michael Rollings, Stamfordham.
IN order to redress the North-South imbalance we should have been offered more than London got. What would happen if all the regions got a regional assembly with watery soup to feed on?
We would all be fighting over scraps while the big southern dogs would still be sitting back smiling. Offer the North-East a powerful bone that we can get our teeth into. Otherwise we will continue to say no, and will expect our present local politicians to do more standing up and fighting for a fair share of the pot.
- John Scott, Billingham.
I THINK I take a different stance to most letters I have read arguing for or against the proposed regional assembly.
I think if I were a passionate Cornishman (with distinctive culture and even language) I might feel aggrieved that suburbanites from, say Swindon, (as near to London as to Truro) were being included in my regional assembly area.
- B Roberts, York.
YOUR leader (Echo, Oct 28) bemoaned the descent of the regional assembly debate into "an utterly puerile squabble" and laid the blame at the door of the yes campaign.
It is unfair to point the finger at us. Consider the facts.
The yes campaign is non-party political, deliberately so. Our volunteers and supporters are with us because they believe passionately in a better future for the region.
Our supporters are from all walks of life in the region. These are all people who have proved their pride in and commitment to the region.
Both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of the assembly and are running their own, separate campaigns in favour of a yes vote.
Until a few weeks ago the campaign was being conducted in an open and informative way - with the arguments against a yes vote being led by Neil Herron, a man who has argued from a regional viewpoint.
At the last minute, the NESNO campaign appeared out of the blue (or should that be true blue?) and was given official status. This is when things began to turn dirty.
Taking their cue from the kind of negative campaigning popularised by the Bush Republicans in the United States, NESNO immediately set about making claims which are wildly untrue:
"There will be more politicians." There will actually be several hundred less, as a result of the accompanying local government reorganisation.
"It will cost a fortune." The assembly will cost 5p a week for every adult.
"There'll be a huge, expensive new building." All sides agree that there are plenty of existing buildings to do the job in Durham City - and no-one is tempted to repeat the Scottish Parliament fiasco.
"It will have no powers." The assembly will have significant powers in the areas of job creation, regeneration, transport, housing, arts and sport.
Sadly, the media largely left the mistruths of NESNO's propaganda unchallenged.
We make no apology for our decision to expose NESNO for what it is. Only by doing so could we begin to talk again about the positive value of an elected assembly.
- Ross Forbes, Campaign Director, Yes4theNorthEast.
IT'S true that party political rabble-rousing to swing the outcome of the referendum on regional government is "utterly puerile" (Echo, Oct 28).
However, it isn't true that the no lobby are "unreformed Tories". John Prescott was only able to throw this red herring into the debate, and yes campaigners to follow it up, after the Electoral Commission decided to award official funding to Conservative-backed NESNO, in preference to the independent, grassroots campaign led for two years by Neil Herron from his tiny office in Sunderland.
It was this same Electoral Commission that fobbed us off with a postal ballot deemed unfit for use in any other part of the country, and which has stood by approvingly as members of the Government tour our towns touting for an assembly in contempt of the 28-day purdah period.
All the same, I doubt whether it's disgust at all this that's discouraging people from voting. The real turn-off is the referendum itself.
Those of us who have read the draft bill and see how little power it offers, apart from the power to raise taxes, are voting no. But the vast majority of North-Easterners couldn't care less one way or the other. There was never any popular demand for an assembly, it was pushed to the top of the agenda by a group of academic and political insiders.
Clearly, the majority of us are becoming less and less willing to act as voting fodder for a self-serving elite.
We don't need an assembly to give us either hopes or dreams - we can manage our hopes and dreams for ourselves: all we need is a bit less government interference, so that we have a better chance of bringing them to fruition.
- Gillian Swanson, Whitley Bay.
I FAIL to see the difference between southern Tories telling us to vote no and southern socialists telling us to vote yes.
And it should be remembered that if the no votes win, the Government will keep on coming back until it gets the result it wants. Should the yes vote win there will be no second chance.
Secondly, I wonder where Brian Walker has been for the last 30 years when he talks about preserving one of the most historic counties in England.
Those of us who live by the Tyne, Wear or Tees were once proud to be part of this county, but this privilege is now denied us. To me, if the present administrative county is broken up it will only be the logical end of a process that was begun in 1968. - Peter Elliott, Eaglescliffe.
THIS week's star prize for stating the blindingly obvious goes to Ross Forbes (Yes4TheNortheast) who says: "The response from the no campaign is typically negative".
What I would like to know is what were the £184,000 additional costs incurred by Messrs Prescott and Raynsford in their campaigning endeavours, assuming that we the taxpayers are already paying their wages plus their considerable expenses?
Let's hope for their sakes it was not a "no win no fee" deal.
- Chris Greenwell, Aycliffe Village.
WE have far more politicians per head of the population than the US. What we really need is fewer politicians.
If a regional assembly happens it will lead to an already outrageously high council tax and create more "jobs for the boys".
A modern technological society needs fewer politicians and far more technologists and scientists.
The main reason Britain performs so poorly is because those who govern us are largely technologically ignorant.
The French had an eminent scientist as their minister for science - Britain has a grocer.
- John Laurence, Sunderland.
TO be honest, I don't know whether a regional assembly would be good for the region or not. I question the very notion of the region.
I was born in Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Some of our administration was located in Northallerton. Perhaps not satisfactory.
I will not bore the reader with Middlesbrough's many changes re local government over the last 40 years, except to say that most people noticed little difference in their everyday lives.
The same will be the case under a regional assembly. Middlesbrough could just as well be the most northern town in some other region stretching east, west and southwards.
Is Barnard Castle in the proposed region? My local reference library could show me no detailed map. Why not? We citizens of the Boro looked to the Tees Valley, to Stockton, to Billingham, to Redcar, to the North Yorkshire villages such as Great Ayton, Guisborough or Stokesley.
Newcastle and Sunderland were rivals. There is no North-East culture which binds us to Tyneside or Wearside. Only outsiders like certain members of the Government perpetuate this myth.
I support York City now as well as the Boro. Could I ever support Newcastle or Sunderland? The region is a myth. Someone has an agenda. Beware.
- Brian Roberts, York.
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