Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Uncomfortable Minister trying to sell bottled fog on Tyneside


Grainger Suite Life Centre Newcastle Upon Tyne 31st August 2004

with Rt Hon Nick Raynsford John Tomaney (Yes4theNorthEast) Neil Herron (North East No Campaign)

Draft Regional Assemblies Bill

Neil Herron's Speech

Thank you Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Firstly I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Raynsford for having the courage to come to the region today...and sorry you couldn't make it to Sunderland for the debate when you were called back to Parliament at short notice...something about cancelling referendums.
I can tell you that Jonathan was an admirable stand in and the dozen or so people who turned up enjoyed the sandwiches.

The handful of Sunderland residents who have heard that there is a referendum, possibly taking place on November 4th, will be disappointed that you have again chosen Newcastle to discuss the Draft Regional Assemblies Bill...but who are we to complain. You would think we were the biggest city.

No, I must start to think as a North Easterner with a North Eastern identity.

Which brings me neatly on to that 'Identity.'

An 'identity' that makes us so special that we are the only ones to have a referendum...after the ones in Yorkshire and the North West were 'postponed.'

Are we unique?

We were told that we didn't suffer any problems.

There was no evidence of any fraud...not like what had happened in the other two regions.

I stood in the elections and witnessed the problems first hand

...600,000 ballot papers over a week late.

...28,000 ballot papers rejected is 28,000 people losing their vote.

...and we had the same potential for fraud that there was in the other two regions...multiple voting, 'influencing' someone's vote... a 'Charter for Bullies', theft of ballot papers. Only difference is that up here no-one got caught...yet.

But the two referendums were cancelled and the North East was to go ahead despite the fact that this was well in advance of the Electoral Commission's report....a report which came out last Friday... brought forward from Monday 13th September...to a Friday before a Bank Holiday.

Well, Mr. Raynsford, that bad news has not been buried. Its corpse is still here and the foul stench that we have in our nostrils is the smell of our democracy decomposing before our very eyes.

The Electoral Commission recommends that All Postal Ballots are never to be used again... except for the North East referendum.

Too late to alter... too late to postpone.

A flawed and discredited system used in a referendum which will affect the way the North East is governed for years, if not generations to come.

The Electoral Commission, set up by this Government to help encourage greater participation in the democratic process, ignored. It beggars belief.

Perhaps we do have a unique identity here in the North East... a one that recognises when we are being treated as fools.

Unlike others, I would like the referendum to go ahead because it will give the public a chance to indulge themselves and send the Government a loud and clear message.

Which brings be onto the second point.

The last time we met Mr. Raynsford, was the day the District Auditor announced that the unelected North East Assembly had been unlawfully using public money to promote the Yes perspective.

The Assembly was publicly censured and all the literature had to be withdrawn and the website taken down...they had to then become 'neutral and benign.' They did so and it was not necessary to proceed with legal action.

We were then told that the Government's 'Information Campaign' which has had more lauches than Swan Hunters, was to be neutral.

Quite why Mr. Prescott launched one of the launches a couple of weeks before announcing the actual date. Surely it would have been better to have the date on the hundreds of adverts on the buses?

However, I have the latest brochure from this 'Information' Campaign. It appears that lessons have not been learned. I have the utmost sympathy for John Tomaney and the Yes campaign.

They expected at least to have their chance of convincing the public with some of their arguments...he is quoted here as saying "some of the images are disappointing."

For the rest of the audience I will leave you to judge whether this is 'Information' or a blatant attempt at propaganda.
...if you are fit, smart urban and dynamic then you are in favour...
...if you are elderly, or a minority... and unhappy you are opposed...
...and the guy with 'I love Tony' on his T -Shirt...

So, Mr. Raynsford...you haven't just shot yourself in both feet in the past few days...you have just blown the legs off the Yes Campaign.

I am sorry if everyone thought that we were here today to hear discussions about the minutiae of this document, but it is a bit like discussing what colour curtains you would like for a house built without planning permission, on foundations of sand with money borrowed from a bank with a fraudulent application...sold to you by a didgy estate agent.

I will leave that argument for the audience to challenge the Minister, but the main point for me is in the wording of Section 43...

"Central Government would retain powers to ensure that elected assemblies and their RDA's continue to address national priorities. For exaple, the Assembly would need to consult the Government on the draft regional economic strategy and on Board appointments. The Government would also be able to require changes to the strategy, if it conssiders that it is inconsistent with national policies or is likely to have a detrimental eefect on areas outside the region."

As that sinks in, I will quickly sum up...

-There never was, "the will of the people." They are disinterested to say the least in what is to be nothing more than a toothless, ineffective talking shop. We have had this ill-thought out ill-conceived idea foisted upon us.

-Continuing with a flawed and discredited poll will completely undermine the result...whichever way it goes and if cases of fraud are uncovered then there could be legal challenges.

-We will be demanding that ALL the propaganda leaflets are withdrawn.

-An assembly will be able to do what it wants...but only with reference back to central Government...will give us nothing more than an expensive talking shop producing initiatives and strategies.

-If Steve Rankin is here I am sure he will raise this point, none of the 10 concerns / challenges of the CBI and NECC raised last year have been met. I know he is still living in hope... but look at the reality. People are not on board and never were. Business is not on board and never really were.

So, Mr. Raynsford, I admire your courage coming here today because I know your heart isn't really in it.
The people here are not just going to say no, they are going to shout it.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Herron puts Cats Amongst Pigeons

Under-used MPs should be given a proper job
Aug 30 2004
By The Journal

Is there an alternative to a Regional Assembly if we are to achieve the delivery of more self-determination in the North-East? North East No Campaign Director Neil Herron says there certainly is.

During a recent debate in the Commons to discuss the number of MPs we elect, the Liberal Democrat Andrew George estimated 150 of the 659 MPs could well be given the chop.

His reasoning was it would save substantial money because much of their work has been handed over to Brussels, or to assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and London.

Now it has become unclear even what MPs think they are there for, other than authorising taxes on us and fixing pay rises for themselves.

But we have to watch Mr George and what he is really up to. He wants to see the "Europe of Regions" in place, which means doing away entirely with meaningful national parliaments.
Weakening Westminster by reducing the number of MPs is an essential part of that package.
However, he has a point in asking whether we need all these people now that they have given away most of the work we elected them to do.

It was unusual to see so many North-East MPs in favour. Are they wanting a three-day week?
Contrary to Mr George's wish, it is vitally important we maintain a strong parliament.

A strong parliament is most likely to give us good governance, a weak parliament bad one.

There must be enough MPs to provide an adequate stock of leadership talent, even if there is not an abundance of it now.

The main political problem in Britain today is reconnecting the electorate with the ballot box.
Voting gimmicks and desperate attempts to increase the turn-out are not the solution.

More enfeeblement of Westminster could only advance its divorce with the voter.

Nevertheless the question remains: "How can the seeming excess of MPs be used productively and parliament strengthened at the same time?"

The "Yes Campaign" and its supporters continually state the "No Campaign" is negative and has not come up with something positive.

Well, perhaps there is a positive alternative, because the answer is staring us in the face given the MPs' regional responsibilities as well as constituency duties.

The present arguments for English regionalisation are largely fraudulent, divisive and destructive.

The Prescott plan requires us to turn out to vote for new people and for new elective assemblies. The electorate knows it has too much worthless government already.

It will turn its back, having recognised that these assemblies have no real power and will simply be talking shops.

Instead, if members were sitting MPs, the position of the assemblies would change immediately. They would then carry enormous clout.
Unlike Prescott's version, where the elected assembly representatives are virtually powerless, MP assemblymen and women would also sit in the Commons. This makes all the difference.

For genuine regional issues (as, for example, the dualling of the A1 and relocation of Government Departments), these MPs could work out a cross-party consensus, fixed before the party whips can get at them.

Prescott's elective assemblies could not start to do any such thing.

And why should our MPs not form the regional assemblies?

We already vote for them and they have done away with much of their previous workload, so they cannot claim to be overworked.
MPs are quite close to the electorate and also face deselection or defeat.
Their performance in a Regional Assembly over things that are of immediate consequence to us in the North-East would give us a much better grasp of what sort of people they really are.

This could be the start of real "Bottom Up" democracy, the revival of parliamentary democracy and the breaking of the parliamentary party stranglehold.

And the big plus . . . it would save us much money.

No need for a new building.

No need to raise the Council Tax to pay for the running costs.

No "extra" elections.

No need to create another raft of politicians, their apparatchik and new salary commitments.

Who cannot want all this?

Despite all the fizz and splutter of the regionalists, the genuinely regional issues are few.

The current unelected regional assemblies make do on only three plenary sessions a year.
MP-assemblies, or Select Committees, might well elect for monthly sessions and listen to representations in regional sessions across the region.

The voracious and burgeoning secretariats of the current unelected assemblies could be pruned right back.
The cascade of worthless seminars, and workshops beloved by factotums and fellow travellers would be cut off.

We could start reducing on the 354,000 new public servants that have been appointed since 1997.

And, at the next election, there may be candidates standing with a regional and local agenda.
This would ensure incumbent MPs will have to be aware that a lot more people are watching what they are up to.

I think this would spice up North-East politics.

Once the electorate realise they are in control - and really have the power to change things - we may end up with a better standard of political representation.

Private Members Clubs are the future. New legal dilemma for authorities.

In for a pound
Mail on Sunday 08:54am 29th August 2004

Jubilant traders have discovered a legal loophole which could scupper Government plans to abolish the imperial system of weights and measures.

Shops around the country are now preparing to put themselves beyond the reach of the law by turning themselves into private clubs.

The clubs ask shoppers to make a nominal donation to join and are then able to sell in pounds and ounces, apparently without breaking the law.Enforcement officers have visited at least one store operating in this way but have taken no action against it.

The rebels could make it impossible for Ministers to meet their target of falling into line with European regulations by totally abolishing imperial measures in shops before the end of 2009.

One of the rebels, Peter Halstead, runs a fishmonger's in the Hertfordshire village of Codicote.
"It's right for Britain and my customers"
He explained yesterday how the system works: "If someone new comes in, we explain we are selling only in pounds and ounces and that, if they want to be served, they have to join our Imperial Club.
"They have to put 1p in a charity box - which gives them life membership - and write their names and addresses in a book. They are then given a registration number - normally the last three digits of their telephone number - which they quote each time they make a purchase."
The shop already has more than 1,000 loyal 'members' on its roll, with customers coming from miles around to support its stance.

Mr Halstead, 54, said enforcement officers had visited his store and quizzed him about his club but had not taken any action against him.
He has run Gemini Fish Supplies for 16 years and told yesterday how he converted to metric when the law originally changed - but switched back after just three months.

He said: "Many of our customers are quite elderly and we realised more than half of them didn't understand the new system.
"It was wrong to ban imperial measures at a stroke and alienate so much of the population.
"How can you appreciate the intrinsic value of what you're buying unless you understand the system by which the goods are weighed and measured?"

Mr Halstead said some customers were taken aback when he asked them to join the Imperial Club.

He said: "They think we're doing it for a laugh. But when we explain it to them, they always join.

The only exception was a chap last week who was an ardent pro-European. He said we were fundamentalists and accused us of refusing to serve him, which wasn't true.
"When the inspectors came we told them about the club and they wrote it all down but we've heard nothing. Unless someone tells us it's illegal, we're going to carry on. I am taking a stand because I believe it's the right thing to do for Britain and for my customers.'

Metric Association chairman Robin Paice said last night: "It is essential to consumer protection that everybody understands and uses the same system of weights and measures.
"This possible loophole in the law only adds to the existing confusion and mess of British weights and measures."

But Neil Herron, of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund, said he would encourage supporters to follow Mr Halstead's example.
"This could spread around the country. It would be a fantastic legal challenge if they tried to prosecute private members' clubs," he said.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Pigs Flying over Durham Cathedral

Sunday Telegraph
Christopher Booker's notebook(Filed: 29/08/2004)

Prescott's ballot is a special case
Never again, says the Electoral Commission, can a British election be held on an all-postal ballot - with the sole exception of the very next election to be held, the North-East's referendum on an elected regional government, on November 4.

The Commission's excuse for making this exception was so lame that its announcement was brought forward from September 13 to last Thursday, in the hope that, as Britain's thoughts turned to a bank holiday weekend and Kelly Holmes, no one would point out how unconvincing it was.

John Prescott is anxious for the referendum to go ahead by postal voting because he sees it as the only chance of saving his plan for an England divided under eight regional governments.

Originally he had been hoping that the three safest Labour heartlands, in the North-East, the North-West and Yorkshire, could be relied on to vote Yes, and so set off a domino effect across the rest of the country.

Mr Prescott's desperation is evident in the latest "information leaflet" put out by his office, in eight languages, to the North-East's 1.9 million voters. Although this paean of praise for the benefits of regional government purports only to be giving "information", the game is given away by its carefully staged illustrations.

These contrast young, attractive, affluent-looking Yes voters, giving the thumbs up to an elected assembly, with "typical" No voters, such as an old man with a cloth cap and a stick, a diminutive Asian shot in shadow and an Afro-Caribbean lady: a selection so blatant it should earn Mr Prescott an interview with the Commission for Racial Equality.

On Friday, as the media again tried to raise a flicker of interest in this campaign, the BBC showed a Lib Dem spokesman on Palace Green in Durham waxing lyrical about how the people of the North-East were about to rise up en masse to vote for regional government.

When the programme cut to Neil Herron, the director of the North-East's No campaign, the interviewer asked him why he was gazing up into the sky. He replied: "I'm looking for the pigs flying over Durham Cathedral."

Full Report on Postal Ballots by the Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission says North East referendum should go ahead as an all-postal ballot
26 Aug 2004
Not for publication before 00.01, Friday 27 August 2004
The Electoral Commission believes the North East referendum on an elected regional assembly and local government restructuring should go ahead as planned on 4 November.

In a statement published today, the Commission reaches the conclusion that the referendum in the North East should proceed as an all-postal ballot.

The Commissions evaluation of the all-postal pilots at the June elections highlights the need to provide voters with a choice of voting methods. However, the Commission believes it would not be right to abandon the all-postal ballot in the North East as this late stage. Making significant changes to the process now would increase the risks and the Commission is of the view that the referendum should proceed as planned.

Implications of the Commission report Delivering democracy? fro the regional assembly and local government referendums

The Commission today published a major report on the future of postal voting in the UK, drawing on the findings of its evaluations of all-postal voting pilot schemes in the 2004 elections.

The Commission has recommended that all-postal pilot schemes at elections should not continue, and that a new model of voting reform needs to be developed to enhance the degree of choice available to voters and to provide a more robust legal framework.

In July, Parliament approved an all-postal referendum for the North East of England. The referendum period has now started and the close of poll is fixed for 4 November 2004.

In advance of Parliaments decision, the Government stated that it would make changes to the processes for the conduct of the regional referendum should our evaluation of the election pilot schemes show that all-postal voting is unsafe.

The Government also indicated that the timing of proposed referendums in the North West and Yorkshire & the Humber would be considered following the publication of the Commissions evaluation reports.

The Commission has therefore considered carefully, in the light of our conclusions in relation to postal voting more generally, whether it is appropriate for the referendum in the North East to continue as planned and what the implications are for the two postponed referendums.

In relation to the North East referendum, our conclusion is that the referendum should proceed as an all-postal ballot without major changes to the process. In reaching this view, the Commission is strongly influenced by the fact that the referendum process is already underway, as Parliament approved the Orders that initiated the process in July this year. Counting Officers are currently making the necessary arrangements for the effective delivery of the referendums under that legislative framework. In our view, it would be a far greater risk to the process if significant changes were to be made now than if the referendum were to continue as planned.

Our judgment is also based on a number of additional factors that are specific to this referendum.

These are as follows:

The form of all postal-voting defined in law for the regional referendum is a significant improvement over that piloted in June, in part as a result of changes advocated by the Commission earlier in the year. For example, there is no requirement for a witness to sign the security statement and more Assistance and Delivery Points are provided for and discretion given to Counting Officers to provide additional Points as they see fit;

There is presently no evidence on which to conclude that an all-postal referendum in the North East would be unsafe in terms of fraud or malpractice. To the Commissions knowledge, no allegations of electoral fraud made in the North East in relation to the June all-postal pilot scheme have led to formal prosecutions;

Voters and election professionals in the North East have substantial previous experience of all-postal ballots;

The public is more positive about all-postal voting, and its future use, in the North East than in any other pilot region; and

The capacity of commercial printers and the Royal Mail to manage an all-postal ballot of the scale required in the North East (with approximately 1.9 million electors) was evidenced in June and their capacity will be further enhanced by the lack of competing pressures from other all-postal ballots taking place simultaneously. Additionally, planning between printers, local authorities and other key suppliers is already well underway.

The Commissions report Delivering democracy? highlights the risks involved with late decision-making in relation to the legal framework for the conduct of the all-postal ballots held earlier this year, especially once critical planning activities are underway.

The Commission is not, therefore making any recommendations for change to the Orders already made in relation to the conduct of the North East referendums.

However, we will work with the Chief Counting Officer and the Government to encourage and promote good practice within the framework of the existing Order especially in relation to voter access and choice.

Nothing in this statement should be interpreted as offering reassurance that, even if the actions above are taken, the referendum process in the North East will be risk free or secure a high degree of public support. There are factors that have not previously had to be addressed in all-postal ballots, including the fact that the referendum period will coincide with the annual registration canvass.

In relation to further referendums, the Commission would not support any future referendums whether regional or national - being run on the all-postal basis proposed for the North East, in line with our wider recommendations for the future of voting in Delivering democracy?.

However, that does not prevent any such referendum proceeding on traditional voting lines at such time as the Government considers appropriate.

The Electoral Commission
August 2004

For further information contact the Press Office:
Charmaine Colvin on 020 7271 0700 or 020 7271 0530
Out of Office hours 07887 626774

Notes to editors:
Delivering democracy?, the evaluation reports for the North East, North West, Yorkshire & the Humber and East Midlands can be viewed at:

The Electoral Commission was established on 30 November 2000 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). It is independent of Government and aims to ensure openness and transparency in the financial affairs of Britain's political parties, and to increase public confidence and participation in the democratic process.
Under the terms of the PPERA, the Commission is responsible for all UK, national (Scotland, England, Wales, NI) and regional referendums. On 23 July 2004, the Government signed the final Orders triggering the process for a referendum on a regional assembly to be held in the North East region on 4 November 2004.

The Electoral Commission has a significant role to play in the forthcoming referendum.

These responsibilities include:

appointing a chief counting officer Ged Fitzgerald, Sunderland;

commenting on the intelligibility of the referendum question;

registering campaign organisations (permitted participants);

designating (appointing) lead campaign organisations on both sides of the referendum question (where possible);

monitoring referendum expenditure limits and donations.

The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 outlines the Government's intention to enable the creation of elected regional assemblies in English regions.

The Government has previously stated that where there appears to be sufficient interest in establishing an elected regional assembly in a region, there will be a referendum to determine public views.

People can ring 0800 3 280 280 for further information about the North East regional referendum.
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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Northern Echo...Front Page

Anger at `offensive' big poll leaflets
by Kate Bowman (Exclusive)

Northern Echo 28th August

A LEAFLET encouraging people to vote in the referendum on a North-East regional assembly has been branded "offensive propaganda".

Photographs of six people expressing their views in the Government brochure have sparked anger among the Tories, campaigning groups and charities over its use of images.

Thousands of copies the pamphlet, entitled Have Your Say, are being sent to homes across the region - urging residents to post their votes before the November 4 referendum day.

Neil Herron, of the No campaign, said that images of a black woman, an Asian man and a pensioner rejecting the idea of a regional assembly by showing a "thumbs down" sign were portraying a subliminal message.

The three photographs used to portray people backing an assembly all show young white people with their thumbs up - looking more vibrant and purposeful.
"It is offensive propaganda," he said. "This is a blatant attempt to influence people by saying that if you are young, dynamic and fresh thinking then that is the way we are moving forward.
"If you are a member of a minority group or old then this brochure suggests you will say No. It suggests that these people are not moving with the times."

The Shadow Minister for Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Caroline Spelman, echoed his concerns.
"The leaflet seems far from objectively representative, even just from looking at the photographs," she said.
"Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent on an information campaign which seems to have amounted to little more than Government propaganda, leaving people who are being asked to vote on the regional assembly no clearer as to its exact powers or how much it will cost."

Suzanne Fletcher, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Stockton Borough Council, said she had already received an e-mail from one constituent who was shocked about the use of the photographs.
"I think it is an appalling gaffe on behalf of the Government, putting out information that portrays that elderly people and those of ethnic minority won't understand the issue," she said.

The pictures were also condemned by groups for the elderly, which claimed the image of the old man was stereotypical, negative and did not represent the strong voice of the older generation.
Dave Punshon, chief executive of Age Concern on Teesside, said: "Older people are the ones who tend to vote more and will be affected by a regional assembly. Their say is just as important."

Robert Stansfield, of Pensioners Voice in the North-East, said: "Elderly people are simply being switched off. These pictures speak a thousand words. There is an element of suspicion about exactly what message the Government is trying to say."

But a spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - which issued the leaflet - disputed any suggested that the images were contrived.
"These are real people from the North-East who we spoke to and had their own opinions," she said. "We are not suggesting that these people are representative of their entire age group or race."

Professor John Tomaney, chairman of the Yes 4 the North-East campaign in support of the assembly, said the choice of images was disappointing.
"We urge the government to learn the lessons of this as the referendum debate is too important an issue to be clouded by distractions like this," he said.

Labour MP for Stockton South, Dari Taylor, revealed that she had already returned her copy to John Prescott's office saying she was appalled at its content generally.
"The imagery is so poor and not once does it mention Teesside. It is very disappointing,"she said.
"If anybody believes it will make people confident that a regional assembly will work for them then they need to think again."

Letter Berwick Advertiser

Agreeing to Assemblylike signing blank cheque
Sir — Enclose a copy of a letter sent this morning to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister anent the Brochure on the Regional Assembly.

Don’t know if it is of interest or use to you.I have this morning received your brochure regarding the North East Assembly, which has left me frankly appalled.

Unless I have misunderstood it we are expected to vote for or against an Assembly without having any legislation relating to it having passed through Parliament (though I agree you will have a draft Bill - which may or may not bear any resemblance to the final Act). As a child I was taught never to sign blank cheques. What else is this.

Secondly I do not appreciate the bias of your literature, though I suppose that was to be expected - in the first place let us take the photographs - in this semi-literate age probably all that some people who still have a vote can understand.

Picture 1 - young white smiling upwardly mobile looking female executive saying yes -

Picture 2 - older looking black unsmiling woman with council housing background saying no -

Picture 3 - again young upwardly mobile looking man saying yes -

Picture 4 - decidedly grumpy looking elderly man saying no -

Picture 5 one black and one white young man, white thumbs up, black thumbs down, with furthermore a t-shirt on the white man meant to imply I love Tony, by concealing the right hand side of his shirt with his arm.

This is blatant labour propaganda (though I suppose that is what one can expect) with an appeal to the latent racism in this country of which the report into the police after the murder of the young black student in Lewisham referred.

My third point is that I believe that as a voter I should have a clearer idea of what the costs of this Authority are going to be. It clearly states how much money the Government proposes to put into the new Councils.

Could I please have details of how much is currently being paid to the separate Councils listed in your paper, and also a note on the potential redundancy payments including costs of pension upgrades etc., to be made to those at District and County level.

I feel sure that the office you have established in a back street somewhere in Northumberland (on the lines of the one you have in Wigton for Cumbria and the North West) will have worked something out on this last point.Finally could I as a taxpayer who is no doubt helping to finance this Shadow office and the high salaries involved in the above office, know where it is, and also if possible who the new Regional Officers are.

Comment in the Yorkshire Post

Democracy at stake
Election proposals must be adopted
Yorkshire Post 27th August 2004
THE shoddy manner in which the Government introduced all-postal ballots, leading to inevitable allegations of malpractice, is exposed for all to see in the long-awaited critique published today by the Electoral Commission.

It is a hard-hitting report that should make very uncomfortable reading for those Government Ministers who erroneously insisted on holding June's council and European elections by post in four pilot areas, including Yorkshire and the Humber, against the advice of experts.

However, the key test now is the Government's response to the independent watchdog's criticisms, and whether Ministers in John Prescott's department will have the humility to admit their mistakes, or continue with the arrogance that they demonstrated prior to the elections.

Frankly, Mr Prescott has little choice if he is to restore credibility in an electoral system that his Government has done so much to undermine. He must immediately heed the Commission's advice not to hold any further pilot schemes until the watchdog has had time to finalise a definitive framework that addresses logistical issues, and the question of security.

He must also indicate that he will seek to enshrine in law other common-sense recommendations unveiled today if postal voting, as the Commission suggests in its rounded findings, is to have a successful future alongside other methods of voting.

As well as a range of overdue new criminal offences to deter fraud, the proposal that individuals should register to vote, rather than households, with each voter receiving their own security code, should be wholeheartedly welcomed.

Such a scheme will then make it unnecessary for electors to require witness statements – a move that was resented by the many who still prefer the sanctity of the ballot box, or found it difficult to find a witness.

Although the increase in votes which occurred in the June pilot is to be welcomed, such a factor, on its own, is no justification for the Government ignoring the Commission's findings.

At stake is the future of democracy, and the Government must do everything in its power to ensure that voters can have confidence in the changes or voting numbers will soon decrease again, the very opposite of what Ministers have sought to achieve.

More Bad News...Vote to go ahead?

Big vote to go ahead despite fraud alert
Northern Echo 27th August
Calls are being made the forthcoming referendum on a regional assembly for the North-East to be postponed in the wake of a report which recommends an end to the use of all-postal ballots.

A report published by the Electoral Commission today into accusations of widespread vote-rigging in the postal vote for June's European election says November's referendum should go ahead as planned, despite acknowledging the danger of electoral fraud.The report calls for the scrapping of all-postal ballots in future but says it is too late to safely halt a postal ballot for the North-East referendum.

Last night, Caroline Spelman, Conservative local government spokeswoman, said: "The planned regional assembly referendum in the North East in November should now be postponed, given there is insufficient time to introduce tougher anti-fraud measures."

The Electoral Commission cannot on one hand assert that there should be a moratorium on all-postal elections and then suggest that the all-postal referendum should go ahead."The only safe option is to restore the tried and trusted ballot box until the necessary safeguards have been put in place."

However, Professor John Tomaney, chair of Yes 4 the North East, said: "This referendum is a historic opportunity for the people of the North-East to bring real decision-making powers to the region and give us a chance to shape our own future."Those suggesting it should be postponed don't have the best interests of the region at heart, and are just trying to deny the people of the North- East their say."

The report was drawn up following accusations of chaos and corruption during the European elections, which led the Government to postpone ballots on proposed regional assemblies for the North-West and Yorkshire and Humberside.

Today's report recommends that all-postal pilot schemes should not continue and that future referendums on regional assemblies should not be run on all-postal lines - killing off any lingering hopes of a ballot taking place in Yorkshire and Humberside for the foreseeable future.However, it concludes that the system should be used for the North-East ballot.

The commission said: "In reaching this view, the commission is strongly influenced by the fact that the referendum process is already under way.It added: "In our view, it would be a far greater risk to the process if significant changes were to be made now than if the referendum were to continue as planned."The commission said that significant improvements had been made to the process since June.

It went on: "There is presently no evidence on which to conclude that an all-postal referendum in the North-East would be unsafe in terms of fraud or malpractice."

To the commission's knowledge, no allegations of electoral fraud made in the North-East in relation to the June all-postal pilot scheme have led to formal prosecutions."The report also praised the region's track record in handling postal ballots.

But the commission warned: "Nothing in this statement should be interpreted as offering reassurance that . . . the referendum process in the North-East will be risk free or secure a high degree of public support."

John Elliott, of the North-East Says No group, said: "The report shows that the Government is cheating the people of the North-East out of a fair vote."They are having an all-postal vote which they already know is open to fraud.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

But the North East had no problems ...at all.

The Times
August 26, 2004
'Bribery and fraud rife' in postal vote
By Dominic Kennedy and David Charter

INTIMIDATION, bribery and fraud were widespread in the June local elections, according to court documents seen by The Times as a report is expected to demand sweeping changes to postal voting.

One postman was threatened with having his throat cut, post boxes were set on fire and the Royal Mail replaced red mail vans with white ones to protect staff, it is claimed.

When the Electoral Commission publishes its analysis of the elections today, The Times understands that it will press the Government to undertake reforms including:

# Allowing each member of a household to register individually with their own signature, rather than relying on the head of household to sign for everyone.

# Scrapping the requirement for a vote to be witnessed, which gave rise to confusion and claims of intimidation.

# Encouraging more polling station-style help points in all-postal areas.

# Reviewing the provision of postal votes on demand introduced in 2000.

# Improving planning after thousands of forms arrived late or were mis-directed.

Some experts believe the report into the simultaneous local and European polls should also say whether certain areas, such as Asian communities which saw the most fraud claims, are unsuitable for all-postal voting.

Police investigations into alleged electoral discrepancies have been launched in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Supporters of all parties were involved in the misuse of postal ballots, according to High Court documents calling for the election results to be declared invalid. Two petitions request a judge to overturn elections to Birmingham City Council, Britain’s largest, where postal vote applications rose from 24,000 to 70,000.

Hugh McCallion, Birmingham’s deputy Labour leader, said that the petitions from the Liberal Democrats and the People’s Justice Party involved “wild allegations” and a “scattergun approach”.

One petition claims: “Attempts were made by Labour supporters in Bordesley Green to bribe a postman and he was threatened with having his throat cut. The Royal Mail also changed the colour of their vans from red to white to protect the postmen. Post boxes containing a number of ballots were set alight to invalidate the votes.
“Threats of deportation were made by Labour supporters to first generation migrants if they did not sign postal vote papers to vote Labour. Postal voters were pressurised by Labour Party candidates and agents into casting their vote for the Labour slate whilst the Labour Party agents stood over the voter watching them cast their vote.
“Children were paid to collect postal votes that were sticking out of people’s doors.“Postal ballots which had been opened, the vote changed and then resealed were accepted as valid votes notwithstanding the evidence that duress (or fraud) may have been used to change the votes (Tippex was used as well as crossing out the vote).”

It is also claimed that a candidate was seen coming into a school “with something under his jumper . . . which turned out to be postal ballots”.The petition claims that the police were called when candidates were seen taking bags of postal votes to a deserted road. Asian candidates were “from different ethnic groups and did not trust each other. They were expected to show the ballot papers to each other to ensure all three Labour candidates had been voted for”.

Mohammed Kazi, a candidate, later said that they they had been “sorting out” the ballots. “No one has explained what ‘sorting out’ means,” the petition states. Mr Kazi was cleared by police of any wrongdoing.

“A massive organised electoral fraud mainly involving the misuse of postal ballots was committed by the winning Labour candidates,” the petition claims.
It continues: “This fraud was planned by Labour supporters and involved informal liaison between Labour candidates in a number of wards as to how to abuse the process.

A ‘blind eye’ is turned by elements in the Labour Party organisation to these activities because they benefit the Labour Party.”Another petition, challenging the result in Bordesley Green ward, claims that an unsealed ballot box containing 1,700 votes appeared at the count. “All the votes were complete(d) in one ink and each and every one was cast in favour of the three Labour Party candidates,” the petition claims.

The votes were counted, giving Labour victory over the People’s Justice Party.
A candidate was stopped by police with a bag containing unmarked postal ballot packs, the petition alleges.Bordesley Green had more postal vote applications than any ward in Birmingham. On polling day, dozens of voters were refused a vote because they had been recorded as applying for a postal ballot.Mr McCallion said: “The allegations have been so wild and flung around like confetti that we couldn’t go chasing all these hares. It’s a scattergun approach to try to end up with a few things the court might be concerned about.”Two petitions are from Yorkshire & the Humber, one of four regions where the Government imposed all-postal voting. In the Halifax area, Conservative candidates for Calderdale’s Park ward describe the experiment as “a total failure”. They claim that electors were unable to vote alone and that votes were collected from households by a candidate.In Hull, John Considine, an Independent candidate beaten by seven votes by the UK Independence Party, complains of voters receiving the wrong ballot papers.

In one ward, 2,990 ballot papers were counted although only 2,659 envelopes had been returned, his petition alleges.

An investigation by The Times before the June 10 polling day found widespread claims of intimidation, vote-stealing and trickery in Yorkshire & the Humber and northwest England.

The Government has postponed referendums on regional assemblies in both areas because of lack of public confidence in postal-only voting.

It is pressing ahead with a plebiscite in the North East on November 4.Edward Davey MP, a Liberal Democrat shadow minister, said that his party opposed all-postal voting. “Our biggest concern has always been fraud,” he said. “Even with individual registration we would still be concerned about fraud. The best form of security will always be a polling station.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

RDA officials 'uneasy' about ERA's

"Unofficially, some senior officials (in the RDA's) are deeply uneasy (about Elected Regional Assemblies)."

Full article below

Devolving key decision making to the regions makes perfect sense to the Treasury. But, in reality, how much power is it willing to relinquish?
Peter Hetherington reports Wednesday August 25, 2004
The Guardian

They are a little-known corner of the public sector, employing 2,000 staff throughout England and boasting a hefty combined budget of £2.2bn next year. The country's nine regional development agencies (RDAs) were launched five years ago as the vanguard of John Prescott's grand plan to devolve power from Whitehall.

Impressed by similar bodies created in Scotland and Wales in the late 1970s, the deputy prime minister was keen for England to catch up with strong, business-led economic drivers capable of creating jobs, clearing derelict land, and working with councils to turn round rundown areas.

In fact, while the agencies are generally chaired by business men and women, the influence of local government is stronger than many imagined, with a cross-current between RDAs and town and county halls. Former council chief executives, and other senior officials, now occupy the main posts in a string of agencies, while at least one former RDA official has moved in the opposite direction.

While working outside the direct control of politicians might have its attractions, the influence of Whitehall - which has set the RDAs a series of demanding targets, from job creation to land reclamation - remains strong. This has turned out to be devolution in name only.

Still, for some, working to a set of Whitehall targets may have seemed preferable to daily meetings with a council leader. That's why a collective shudder went through the ranks of some RDAs at the prospect of being answerable to a new breed of regional politician in elected assemblies; the agencies, after all, would represent a big slice of any future assembly budget.
Officially, the eight RDAs, plus London's agency - which is already answerable to Ken Livingstone's Greater London authority - have no official views about full-blown political devolution to the regions, on the broad model of the GLA.

Unofficially, some senior officials are deeply uneasy.

Many doubtless breathed a sigh of relief when Prescott last month scrapped his plan for referendums in two of the three northern regions this autumn - what he dubbed a "great north vote" - to test the mood for elected assemblies.

Only the 1.9 million electors of the north-east will now take part in an all-postal ballot on November 4.

A "yes" vote could mean elections proper to a 25-member north-east assembly in 2006, after which the regional development agency, known as One North East, would be accountable to regional politicians, some of whom may well question the agency's priorities.

True, regional government might be some way off, but any ambitious RDA official will now have to prepare for the possibility of new political masters - although, in reality, Whitehall will still exert considerable influence in the event of Labour winning a third term (the Conservatives have hitherto been hostile to RDAs, while being strongly opposed to elected assemblies).

For the time being, however, RDAs appear fairly high on Gordon Brown's agenda. Although they seemed to have as many detractors as admirers, the chancellor sees them as a building block for the decentralisation of Whitehall departments, and the possible relocation of 20,000 civil service posts around the country.

The chancellor's recent three-year spending review gave the agencies a few more powers, particularly regarding support for new and existing businesses, as well as an extra £200m for 2005-06.

Terry Hodgkinson, who chairs the Yorkshire agency, known as Yorkshire Forward, and has been closely involved in negotiations with Brown, believes the chancellor has listened to their arguments, "particularly about the need to tackle red tape and bureaucracy".

Privately, RDAs have long complained of being hampered by the "command and control" of Whitehall. Until the last election, they were under the wing of Prescott's former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Subsequently, responsibility for them was transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry, widely seen as a branch office of the Treasury these days. Curiously, Prescott's shrunken department - the grandly-titled Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - contributes the largest element of their budget (more then £1.5bn).

In reality, the regional agenda is being driven by Brown and Prescott. Whatever happens in November's north-east referendum, the deputy prime minister insists that a form of devolution - or, more accurately, "decentralisation" - will move ahead.

Non-elected assemblies, comprising mainly local councillors, have been established already in the eight regions outside London, with full-time secretariats. The south-east assembly, for instance - based in Guildford, in the same building as the south-east RDA - has a staff of 34, including a chief executive and a director of planning and transport. Like the other assemblies, it has responsibility for regional strategic planning and, soon, regional housing strategy through a new board recently established. By 2006, regional planning and housing functions are due to be merged, in line with recommendations from a recent review into the housing market by the economist Kate Barker.

In short, if Labour stays in power and Brown remains a force, a form of regionalism - albeit, closely tied to Whitehall's performance and target culture - will be central to the Treasury's objectives.

Monday, August 23, 2004

How many Rivers in the North East?

Looks like Mr. P. Rivers of the Yes Campaign's letter writing team has been busy. One letter in the Journal and this one below in the Northern Echo...

Northern Echo Letters
23rd August 2004
I AM in favour of an elected assembly to represent the interests of the people of the North-East.
An elected assembly would have powers and influence over economic development, skills and training, strategic planning, culture, public health, the environment, rural issues and tourism.
The assembly would be elected entirely by the people of this region and would therefore be answerable to us.

Part of the problem we all face in this region is that so many of the decisions which affect what happens here are made by London-based civil servants and members of unelected quangos.
Our own elected assembly would not only make a positive difference to the way the region is run as it would reflect the opinions of the North-East population but it would also give us a voice to argue our case at national and international level.
P Rivers

Electoral Commission Report Leaked?

The Northern Echo run with this story below as an exclusive and it appears in advance of the Electoral Commission's Report...due out on Friday 27th August in advance of the August BankHoliday.
With all the rain forecast very few will spot this leak.

Witness signature scrapped for regional assembly vote
Northern Echo
23rd August 2004
by Tony Kearney (Exclusive)

BALLOT papers for November's referendum on a regional assembly for the North-East are to be simplified to avoid a repeat of the confusion that marred this year's European elections.

The controversial witness statement - which forced voters to collect a signature from a third party before their vote could be counted - has been scrapped, making November's referendum the first all-postal election in British history that will not require witnesses.

Critics suggested the requirement for a signed witness statement discouraged some people from voting, either because they lived alone or because they felt it interfered with the secret ballot, and that the procedure was open to abuse.

Election officials have also simplified the procedure for placing one sealed envelope containing the ballot paper inside another. This resulted in thousands of voters having to be contacted at home to cast their votes again after they made a mistake first time around.

The complicated system of lettered envelopes is to be replaced with a simplified number code - Envelope 1 will contain the ballot paper and will be placed inside Envelope 2, which is addressed to the returning officer.

During the European elections, almost 3,000 ballot papers in Sunderland - more than three per cent of the electorate - had to be returned to the voter after they were discovered either to be missing a witness statement or to have the wrong envelope placed inside the other.

In Middlesbrough, 700 ballot papers had to be returned and 690 in Darlington.
The changes are believed to be included in a report due out on Friday from the Electoral Commission into the chaos that surrounded June's elections.

The report was commissioned following allegations of vote-rigging and fraud across the country, which led to the cancellation of proposed referendums for regional assemblies in the North-West and Yorkshire and Humberside.

Douglas Stewart, head of referendums for the Electoral Commission, said: "There are a number of things that we are doing differently this time around.
"There was a feeling that the witness statement disenfranchised some voters and that a single signature by the voter gave the same level of security as the polling station."

A leaflet explaining the voting process will be sent out to all 1.9 million eligible voters around the region during the week beginning October 4. The ballot packs are scheduled to be delivered between October 19 and 21.

Neil Herron, one of the region's leading No campaigners, said: "I still do not trust the system because postal voting is wide open to fraud. Ballot papers go missing, multiple voting occurs and influence can be exerted."

People will now wake up to Prescott's Shambles...it will cost lives!

999 call changes 'could cost lives'
Aug 23 2004
By Robert Brooks, The Journal

Lives could be lost if plans to "regionalise" firefighting services go ahead, union leaders and anti-regional assembly campaigners claimed last night.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is facing mounting opposition to moves to replace the existing network of 49 fire control centres in England and Wales with nine new regional control rooms.

These will include just one for the entire North-East and another for the whole of Scotland.
Callers would have to contact their regional centre via an automated answering service, which handles calls through a menu of push-button questions and answers.

A computer will then decide which fire appliance to send out. At present any 999 calls are connected to a local control room staffed by officers who are familiar with the geography of the area.

The issue now looks set to flare up in the regional assembly referendum, with Neil Herron, director of the North-East `No' campaign, branding the idea "insane".

And his concerns have been loudly echoed by local Fire Brigades Union chiefs, who agree the plans are certain to upset a public already sick and tired of listening to recorded messages.
"It's frustrating enough having to listen to a recorded message when you're sitting at home and everything is calm," said Mr Herron, who was an avid campaigner against EU legislation with the late "metric martyr" Steve Thoburn.
"Imagine having to go through this when your house is burning down. People who ring 999 want to deal with a human being, not a machine. It's just one more facet of regionalisation which we don't need, and it will cost lives if it goes ahead."

With the possibility of distances of over 100 miles between callers and the call centre, FBU North-East representative Jean Westwood said time was critical when dealing with emergencies. "By the time a caller gets through and the fire appliance arrives, the situation could have gone from routine to extremely serious," she said. "We are in no doubt that lives could be lost, because the longer it takes to get that call processed, the greater the danger to the caller and the fire crew.
"If staff are cut as a result of the change, callers could end up in queues." And she added: "Our switchboard operators have all trained locally and know the risks, accident spots, major roads and even minor lanes. One of our biggest fears is that we would be handling calls for places we don't have a solitary clue about.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We're confident the new national network of regional control centres, using the latest technology, will provide a better service to the public.

"The centres will provide a more robust service in the event of major incidents."

To read the exclusive, "Pick a Fire From the Following Menu," exposed in Christopher Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph please click here

Another Dreamer

Journal Letters
23rd August
Elected assembly would reflect opinions of region’s population

I am in favour of an elected assembly to represent the interests of the people of the North East.

Part of the problem we all face in this region is that so many of the decisions, which affect what happens here, are made by London-based civil servants and members of unelected quangos.

Our own elected assembly would not only make a positive difference to the way the region is run as it would reflect the opinions of the North East population, but it would also give us a distinctive and clear voice to argue our case at national and international level.

P Rivers

Responses from North East Journal readers to jnl.letters@ncjmedia.co.uk

-which decisions?
-which quangos will go?
-reflect the opinions of the North East people...is that Sunderland and Newcastle? Is that 'North East ' opinion the same for a rural sheep farmer as it is for an urban office worker?
-who will listen to the voice at national and international level?

I am sure that the volleys fired will waken this dreamer.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Regionalisation House of Cards Begins to Fall

Turmoil at Yorkshire assembly as council quits
Simon McGeePolitical Correspondent

21st August 2004

YORKSHIRE'S unelected regional assembly has been branded a money-wasting "talking shop" as a leading council became the first to pull out.

East Riding Council's move is seen as a blow to the Government's regional devolution agenda.

The unelected assembly was set up to play a key part in promoting a regional outlook on policy and is widely seen as a forerunner for John Prescott's vision of an elected mini-parliament.Last month, the Government pulled the plug on plans for referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions on the subject of elected mini-parliaments because of allegations of fraud surrounding all-postal voting.

An all-postal referendum will go ahead as planned in the North-East on November 4 and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has suggested the vote in Yorkshire could go ahead as early as next year.

East Riding Council has launched a scathing broadside on the current regional assembly, complaining of "pointless meetings with people justifying their own existence".It says the £87,500 of council tax-payers' money that it pays annually to the organisation, which has a £3.7m budget and co-ordinates regional strategy in areas like planning and economic development, was frittered away on staff and administration.

Its withdrawal has prompted other authorities to reconsider their membership, raising fears that East Riding's decision could open the floodgates to more councils looking to get out.

North Yorkshire's nine local authorities have since agreed to discuss their membership at their next meeting in October.

The assembly was created in 2001, has a staff of 39 officers based in offices in Wakefield and Brussels, and collects more than £1.5m in subscriptions from the region's 22 local authorities, even though it has little power and provides no services directly to taxpayers.

Its principal role is in co-ordinating regional planning guidance and scrutinising the work of the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward.

East Riding Council leader Stephen Parnaby said: "It's all about budgets and deciding where our priorities lie. Frankly we didn't think we were getting value for money. The whole thing's a talking shop. It's just a waste of time and money. "Whenever we attended we found ourselves in pointless meetings with people justifying their own existence. If they didn't turn up for work for six months no one would notice."

The assembly's chief executive, Liz Kerry, said she was "naturally disappointed" by the council's departure and claimed the body had made real achievements. "The East Riding has particularly benefited from the work of the assembly on a number of issues over the last two years – this has included securing more than £8m extra in flood defence to protect an extra 30,000 properties in East Riding, and working to support the council on a range of planning matters, along with practical help given to assist rural communities."She said meetings had been held to try and bring the authority back on board.

Hull City Council leader Colin Inglis, whose authority paid £91,835 to be part of the organisation, rallied to the assembly's defence, saying: "It's very shortsighted of East Riding in my view. It definitely isn't something that Hull is considering. "I think there's great value in regional arrangements, especially when we're dealing with the Government. As individual councils it would be difficult to punch at the same weight. But with a regional body like this we can."

Leeds City Council's co-leader Andrew Carter said his authority, which paid £227,500 for a year's membership, was not currently considering leaving the assembly, but he added East Riding had made it an issue for debate.He said: "As a council we're looking for value for money. That's the key. If we get it, fine. If we don't, who knows. But there's no denying the organisation is getting fatter and fatter."

An Office for the Deputy Prime Minister spokesman said: "The assembly does fulfil some important functions and it's disappointing to hear that an authority no longer wishes to be involved or contribute to its work representing the region."But Haltemprice and Howden Tory MP and Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "I approve of East Riding's action on this. It's a demonstration of the collapse of John Prescott's ill-starred regional policy."

Assembly points
The quango that grew and grew

THE unelected Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly has been a source of mystery and confusion for some time. The original intention was that this obscure body would form the superstructure for an elected assembly once the region's voters gave John Prescott's idea the thumbs-up in a referendum.

Considering that the referendum is not now going ahead, however, and that the Deputy Prime Minister's dream of a Yorkshire parliament is all but dead in the water, what is the point in the continuing.

With half this bloated budget expected to come from the pockets of hard-pressed local authorities, it is hardly surprising that East Riding Council has decided that enough is enough and has pulled out of the Assembly, complaining of "pointless meetings with people justifying their own existence". Indeed, the only surprise is that East Riding is the only authority to do so.

However, considering the mumblings and grumblings coming from other authorities across the region, that may not be the case for very long.

In its defence, the Assembly claims that it brings in millions of pounds of investment to the region in such areas as flood defence and support for rural communities. Yet there is no way of quantifying this.

It may well be the case that it has played a role in certain inward-investment decisions, but it is impossible to put a figure on its value to the region.

It is known how much the Assembly costs, but it is not known whether or not it provides value for money.

Clearly, East Riding Council feels that it does not.

What is known, however, is that the Assembly has been steadily expanding over recent years and has been busily recruiting and offering large salaries for jobs such as "prinicipal transport planner", "environment policy manager" and "economy and skills policy manager".

The speed with which this regional government-in-waiting has been constructed seems to fly in the face of the claim that the elected assembly would be light on bureaucracy.

The whole idea of the plan for a regional parliament was that it would democratise the quangos, yet here is just such a quango getting bigger and bigger without an elected assembly now in sight. But if the existence of unelected quangos is so worrying to the Government, why not seize this opportunity to get rid of them, the Assembly included, and devolve their powers to local councils?

Or, at the very least, force them to justify their existence through the most stringent of economic tests?

Hexham Courant 20th August

Published on Friday, August 20th 2004

With reference your article "Campaigners have five weeks to go" (Courant, July 30) concerning the forthcoming referendum on an elected regional assembly, the Electoral Commission would like to clarify some points regarding the appointment of designated organisations.

All permitted participants can apply to become the designated organisation for their preferred outcome by submitting an application to seek designated status. Trade unions may well support a permitted participant, but this is not a prerequisite, or the sole determining factor for the designated organisation selection process, as some may have inferred from your report.

Applicants must show that they represent those campaigning for the specified outcome. If there is more than one applicant to be the designated organisation for each outcome, the Commission will designate whichever of the applicants appears to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome.

However, the Commission is not required to designate a permitted participant if, in its view, none of the applicants adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome.

If the Commission is unable to designate a permitted participant for one of the outcomes, it cannot designate a permitted participant for any of the outcomes.

An application form and explanatory notes may be found at: www.regionalvote.com

Doug Stewart,Electoral Commission

Published on Friday, August 20th 2004

I AM very grateful that James Matthews (Courant, August 13) responded to my request for evidence on which negative comments about the establishment of regional assemblies were based.

I want a clear and open debate on the issue of regional government to allow people to make up their own minds over whether they feel it will be beneficial to the region.

What Mr Matthews doesn’t mention are the tangible benefits that would be brought by North-East regional devolution, some that I have already touched on, of an effectively co-ordinated transport policy, or of the development of the local rural economy, or of the attraction of inward investment to regenerate our market towns.

In short, opponents have nothing positive to say on the subject. It is a shame that the only argument of opponents of regional governmen is to use the cancellation of the ballots in the other two regions and they cannot argue about the real issues.

Of course, one of the real benefits would be that local decisions, affecting local people, would be made in the area by people who know them best.

Coming from London, this issue may never have been a problem for Mr Matthews, but for the people of the North-East there is clearly a democratic deficit which needs to be addressed. KEVIN GRAHAM,Labour Party Parliamentary Spokesperson for Hexham,c/o Eldon House,Regent Centre,Newcastle upon Tyne.

Published on Friday, August 20th 2004

LAST month it was reported that a group of North East business leaders had launched a campaign against an elected Regional Assembly.
The list of names made interesting reading.

A number of them, in recent years, donated well over £200,000 to the Conservative Party.There is nothing wrong with this but your readers are entitled to know the political affiliations of the group.There are, of course, many business people who are backing the YES campaign.

GORDON ADAM,Palmersville,Forest Hall,Newcastle upon Tyne

Published on Friday, August 20th 2004

CURRENTLY Scotland is allocated by Central Government significantly more per head for such things as education, transport and roads, tourism and police than the North-East.

It dates back to a time when Government wanted a carrot to achieve devolution in both Scotland and Wales.

Indeed, according to the NO Campaign web site, if the North-East got the same funding as Scotland we would get direct control over £1.3 billion per year rather than the £350 million proposed for the new Assembly.

Despite the fact that the £350 million budget only represents a derisory two per cent of expenditure spent by Government in the region, they have refused to correct this anomaly.

So no carrot, no level playing field for an area selected politically to lead the rest of England into the European Union’s plan to regionalise UK into 12 separate regions.

Past history of local government reorganisations and the recent massive overspends in Scotland, Wales and London plus the fact my own rates have risen by 70 per cent since 1997 suggest little prospect of any extra money, in fact the reverse.

The indications are that the Assembly will be nothing but an expensive talking shop based in a politician’s palace in Durham, where incidentally the YES Campaign headquarters are based.

Will we get better local democracy? Certainly not, for 25 assembly members means one member for every 100,000 people. For Tynedale, that means half a representative!
L.T. GRAHAM,Elvaston Park Road,Hexham

Press 6 For Prescott...The Unwanted Emergency Service

Pick a fire from the following menu

Christopher Booker's Notebook
Sunday Telegraph 22nd August 2004

John Prescott's regionalisation policy has received its most severe rebuff so far, as Britain's firefighters protest that his plans to "regionalise" the country's fire services are "crazy" and "could well put lives at risk".

The opposition of both fire chiefs and the Fire Brigades Union to Prescott's plan will be a central issue in the first referendum campaign on an elected regional assembly, due to be held in the North-East in November.

What particularly angers the firefighters is Mr Prescott's proposal, highlighted last week by Neil Herron, the director of the North-East's "No" campaign, to replace the existing 49 fire control centres in England and Wales by just nine regional control rooms. (There is a similar plan to foist just one control centre on the whole of Scotland.)

The public will be expected to contact these centres through an automated answering service. At present 999 calls can be connected to a local control room, manned by officers who know the area and can instantly send out an appropriate response team.

Regional centres, which might be 100 miles away from the caller, will handle calls through a sequence of push-button questions and answers. A computer will then decide which fire appliance is nearest.

Callers would, for instance, have to press 1 to report a fire; then 1 again for a house fire, 2 for a car fire and 3 for any other fire, such as in an office or factory. Similarly complex sequences would have to be followed to determine whether a caller is reporting a chemical spillage, a plane or train crash, or a terrorist incident (press 4; then 1 if it is on commercial property, 2 if residential, 3 for "other").

This system is just one element in the restructuring of our fire services, which in turn is part of Prescott's larger scheme to divide the UK under 12 regional governments.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) points out that it would pose a serious risk to public safety, with "delays in emergency services responding to incidents" and anguished callers being held in queues.

The campaign against Prescott's plan is led by the FBU and backed by many chief fire officers and local councillors as well as a cross-party group of MPs. Peter Jones, Gloucestershire's chief fire officer, says "we must stop this madness at the highest level of government".

Ken Harrold, of Lothian and Borders Council, says "one fire control for the whole of Scotland is totally unacceptable".

Val Salmon, co-ordinating the FBU's national campaign, says "no one wants regional controls apart from a handful of people in Whitehall".

Mr Prescott's game has been stealthily to transfer power - over planning, housing and the courts, for example - from elected local authorities to a regional level, so that he can then argue that elected assemblies are needed to make these bodies accountable.

But last week, as Neil Herron in Newcastle told FBU representatives, including Peter Wilcox and Jean Westwood, the fire control representative for the North-East: "Mr Prescott's bluff is finally being called. This proposal to undermine our fire service will be a central issue in the North-East referendum campaign, because it brings home just how Mr Prescott's plans will affect everyone in the country - even to the point where lives could be endangered."

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Prescott starting to prepare for defeat

Blair to support regional assembly
by Peter Hetherington, regional affairs editorThursday August 19, 2004

The Guardian Tony Blair has agreed to throw his weight behind the drive for devolution in the north-east by launching the campaign for a yes vote in a forthcoming referendum alongside John Prescott.

Next month, before Labour's annual conference, the prime minister, long regarded as a devolution sceptic, will join his deputy and the chancellor, Gordon Brown, to push the case for an elected regional assembly, covering an area from Berwick to Middlesbrough.

If north-east electors back the plan in an all-postal poll on November 4, Mr Prescott announced yesterday that full-blown elections for a mini-parliament in the north-east could be held in two years' time.

The high-profile launch, probably in Durham, follows several meetings at Downing Street last month before Mr Prescott decided to drop plans for referendums in the north-west and Yorkshire at the eleventh hour, after pressure from hostile Labour MPs and several ministers.

Officially, the government said the referendums had been postponed to await the outcome of an Electoral Commission report on the practicalities of all postal-voting.

But with the north-east now out on a limb, the prime minister, who represents a County Durham constituency, agreed to publicly back Mr Prescott's plans for a north-east assembly broadly similar to that in London, with 25 members. This will be seen by devolution campaigners as a significant breakthrough.

Mr Brown, also initially sceptical, has decided to support Mr Prescott who has faced a long battle with cabinet colleagues and Downing Street policy advisers.

At Mr Blair's insistence, Mr Prescott's plans were given the go-ahead only after the deputy prime minister agreed that devolution must go together with local government reform.
As a result, if voters approve a north-east assembly on November 4, a tier of local government will be scrapped in counties to create all-purpose, or unitary, councils. For Mr Blair, this removes the argument of "No" campaigners that a north-east assembly will mean extra bureaucracy.

But yesterday, unveiling an information pack to be delivered next week to 1.2 million north-eastern households, Mr Prescott was cautious about the likelihood of a "yes" vote.
"An awful lot of people don't know a great deal about it, but there has long been a demand for people in the north-east to have their own say." He added that London, Wales and Scotland had been given their chance to vote on assemblies.

It Doesn't Need a Rocket Scientist !

Newcastle Journal 19th August

Latest stories below from the Newcastle Journal. It appears when asked anonymously, the truth comes out and endorses what we have been saying for over two years. The study, based on anonymous interviews with senior local government figures in the North, says there has been little preparation for how council services will be affected by a new strategic body.
To read the article in full click the links below.

Plans 'Not Good Enough'

How an Assembly will impact on the environment

North must decide - Prescott

Today's Letters

Journal Letters 19th August
We do not need another apathy-generating party
Those proposing a new North East political party could hardly have chosen a worse time to fly their kite.

Don’t they realise that the publics are fed up to the back teeth with all political parties, new, old or decrepit?

That’s why two out of three of us never bother to vote in elections.

And having seen their suggested ‘manifesto’ all it offers is a re-heated form of old labour politics that did so much to being this region to its knees in the 70s and 80s and from which we have still to fully recover.

If you want to see where the future lies look at those councils where independents, not party politicians, are in the majority.

What do you nearly always get? Services run efficiently with balanced books and a prudently managed budget because independent councillors can concentrate on serving the people rather than spouting ideology.

It’s the independent mayors of Middlesborough and Hartlepool that have transformed their towns and brought pride and business back to both, not the party politicians who had to have their heads banged together in both places before they started to co-operate for the good of the community.

Look at those cost-effective, well run and popular small rural councils where party political bickering, thankfully, has no place because independents have been elected instead.
If only all local government was as well run and efficient as these places, apathy would be a thing of the past.

Many of these small and well run councils will, of course, disappear if we vote to have a Regional Assembly in November’s referendum, which is no doubt why the advocates of this "new party" are so in favour of it. More snouts in the trough.

Pete Townshend got it right in the 1970s: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Allan Pond
Windsor Avenue
Whitley Bay

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Today's Letters

Journal Letters
Wednesday 18th August

Let Parliament make the big decisions, not referenda
In the near future, we in the North East will be invited to decide by referendum whether we want an elected regional assembly.

Referendums are runaway legislation, the worst type of legislation, because it is out of the control of parliament.

It has finally to be ratified by Parliament taking a decionless decision. This is a decision where there is only one option.

In a parliamentary democracy major political decisions should be made by Parliament, which is responsible to the people. For instance, the Heath Government in 1972 took us into the European Economic Community, now the European Union, a clear parliamentary decision for which the Conservative Party must accept responsibility.

Then, in 1975 under the Wilson labour Government, we remained in it thanks to a referendum.

The majority of the electorate were in favour of remaining in. This received the parliamentary imprimatur automatically.

The electorate were the decision-makers in this legislation. But many of them are now dead and the decision affects many citizens who were not born then.

In a few years time, if we remain in the European Union, no one alive will be responsible for making the decision.

So referendums can end up affecting everyone but attributable to no one. Another strong argument against referendums is that everyone is at the mercy of the ill informed. The soon-to-be-held referendum bears all the hallmarks of the irrational arrogance of the present government.

Can we return to parliamentary government?
Bernard Foster

Many assembly supporters are naive wishful thinkers
In recent months, numerous letters have been printed concerning the proposed regional assembly.

The basic truth is that 90pc of letters supporting the notion of a regional assembly are from naïve wishful thinkers who clearly have little grasp of the pros and cons.

The Most recent example is your now regular correspondent Lisa Campbell (latest August 12).

If you really have something worthwhile to say, Lisa, why don’t you answer the five or six simple questions put to you recently by Mr Neil Herron?

We remain in eager anticipation!
M Thomas
High Heworth

Current assembly is tarnished so we are disillusioned
Lisa Campbell writes (August 12) that the "unelected North East regional assembly is accountable to Whitehall".

Nothing could be further from the truth: the NEA consists of delegates from all the local authorities in the region who have been elected to their respective councils and delegated to the NEA. It is financed by those councils with our council tax and is therefore entirely accountable to us.

Last year, the North East assembly was given a serve rap on the knuckles by the government watchdog the Audit Commission for misappropriating funds. Is it any wonder that many of us want nothing more to do with a body that is already tarnished by people who want more power?
David Lockie
Berwick Upon Tweed

A No vote would kill home rule for a generation

An especially misleading day’s letters yesterday from the supporters of a No vote in the assembly referendum. John Elliott tells us "smaller parties and independents have found themselves swamped out of the Scottish Parliament".

Really? At the last elections, the Greens, Scottish Socialists and Senior Citizens all won seats, along with no fewer than three independents.

Any party winning 5pc of the vote will be represented in the North East Regional Assembly.
Then John Elliott tells us that the powers available to the Assembly will be insufficient and we should vote No to make the government "think again".

Well, others and I have repeatedly challenged leading No campaigners to say whether they would vote Yes if the powers were greater.

Without exception so far, they all make it clear that they would be even more opposed to a more powerful assembly.

They really are against decisions affecting the region being taken by elected people within the region. If I were wrong, perhaps one of these campaigners would spell out, realistically, what powers would satisfy them.

I won’t hold my breath.

In any case, the reality is that a No vote would be a disaster for the region, as it would kill off devolution for at least a generation.

Finally, Henry and Eleanor Justice tell us that he proposed new "North East" party is a "Labour spin job to get more interest in the assemblies". If that’s the case, I, as a Labour Party regional board member, would have expected to know something about it. As it is the first I learned of it when I read about it on The Journal.
Paul Tinnion

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Yes Camp on Holiday?

Journal Letters
17th August

Voting ‘No’ is the only way to make Government think again
It is no surprise a new North East political party is considering launching in order to campaign for more powers for the proposed North East Assembly.

The Government has failed to listen to its own side and grant the proposed Assembly the kind powers they had assumed that it would have. Even the chairman of the Yorkshire ‘Yes’ campaign described Government departments as ‘Stalinist’ for their failure to devolve powers to the proposed Assembly.

All the Government has offered the North East is an expensive talking shop that will have no powers over the areas that matter to people, but will cost the North East huge amount of money.

Supporters had hoped the assembly would have control of schools, hospitals and law and order –it will not. The Assembly would be unable to employ a single extra doctor, teacher, nurse or police officer.

The ‘Yes’ campaign and The Journal have consistently argued the Assembly must have the ability to upgrade the A1-it will not. The Assembly would not have the power or the resources to upgrade one single inch of the A1.

While John Prescott has suggested the Assembly would be able to campaign for the renegotiations of the Barnett Formula, the people who really matter in Government – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – have given no indication that any changes to the Formula are even up for consideration.

The new political party will have to compete for ‘List seats’ with the conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP, Greens and other independents, smaller parties and independents have found themselves swamped out of the Scottish Parliament.

The only way to make the Government listen and understand that what they offered is not acceptable, is to reject their proposals-vote-no and make them think again.

John Elliott
North East Says No

Talk of a new political party is a labour ploy to gain interest
This "new party" is a labour spin job to get more interest in the assemblies. These "secret people" who are planning all this must be pretty desperate.

Or are they just doing all this plotting because they love the North East of England? If you believe that you will believe that you will believe anything and that’s exactly what these "secret people" want to believe anything.

Henry & Eleanor Justice
Windy Nook

Monday, August 16, 2004

Looks like the Rev is debating with himself ! Perhaps Devil's Advocate?

The Great Debate:
Different approaches needed in region
The Right Reverend John Packer

I DO have a strong sense of region. Yorkshire is a historic county and there is a strong allegiance to the idea of Yorkshire as a region.

It may have been administratively divided for a long time, but people do feel that they are part of Yorkshire as a whole.

I am broadly in favour of regional government because I can see the sense in the region of Yorkshire taking up some responsibilities. It seems to work in many countries in Europe where there are significant differences between areas.

It is good that some issues can be expressed in terms of a region.

A regional government will need to reflect well its individual localities, but also be able to spot the wider issues which are important.

For example, what happens now to the former coalfield areas of Yorkshire is an issue which requires a regional approach.

The issues will be different for each area, and a regional government would be able to take a wider view.

However, I do believe that if a regional government is to work, it will require adequate funding, and that funding must come from central Government.

I cannot see the point in setting up a regional government if it is simply a talking shop.

And there is already funding coming into the area through the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, which has a considerable regional influence on the way projects are financed. I feel that if people voted in favour of a regional government, it should be in the position to receive the necessary funding to carry out its work.

I do not have a strong view on what will happen to local government should the regional government option be supported in the referendum.

I can see the arguments for and against both sides. North Yorkshire County Council, for example, has a good reputation for its education and social services and it certainly supports smaller schools in rural areas.

But, on the other hand, North Yorkshire is a large area and I can see the arguments in favour of retaining local district councils.

* The Right Reverend John Packer, is the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Today's Letters Pages

Journal Letters
16th August

Assembly plan is already bringing out good ideas

It is refreshing to read that even before we have voted in favour of an elected regional assembly people are coming up with new ways in which it could benefit us (quick fix for roads, August 12)

The Idea of road fines being placed in the hands of a locally elected group to spend on our roads (as opposed to add to Whitehall’s pot and spent on improving the infrastructure in the South-East) is a logical progression from the powers the assembly will have.

As your editorial said, it looks like the regional assembly will be more of an idea factory than a talking shop.

Are the anti-assembly groups coming up with any ideas that will be more of an idea factory than a talking shop.

Are the anti-assembly groups coming up with any ideas that will benefit the region? Sadly not.

Damian Lee

If the Government won’t dual, no one else will either

Speeding fines to pay for A1 dualling? Where are these people coming from? It would be like each Sunderland supporter buying a brick for the Stadium of Light.

As I have said before, if "Two Jags" Prescott will not dual the A1 there is no hope of a regional assembly doing it, even if they get a ‘Yes’ vote.

Robin Thompson

List will be out of date for North East referendum

I have just received from the local council a register of elector’s form, which by law must be filled in before October 15, so they can produce an up-to-date register of voters for elections from December 1, 2004.

Voting for a referendum for the regional assembly will take place on November 4, when the present register of electors will be 11 months out of date, there will be thousands of electors who have moved, new electors who are 18 years old who would be entitled to vote and some electors who will have died.

I know the registration officer attempts to keep the register up to date each month but he has to rely on the electors.

The Government proposes to hold a postal ballot in the North East, although they have postponed a ballot for the North West and Yorkshire/Humberside as they regard a postal ballot as unsafe.

How a postal ballot can be safe for the North East and not for other areas, I do not know.

The Government says it is anxious to increase the low turnout of voters at elections. Last year the local council election in South Tyneside cost £1.319m for an all-postal multi channel vote, as against less than £150,000 for the traditional ballot box voting, yet the number who voted was less than the previous year.

If, as I predict, there is a derisory vote for this referendum, as people do not wish to pay for an extra layer of government, the Government will have to accept some of the blame for using a flawed all-postal voting system rather than the tried and trusted ballot box and using an out of date election register.

George Smith
South Shields

Northern Echo
Hear All Sides 16th August


NOW we have greater clarity over the powers of a regional assembly since the Draft Bill was published.

The assembly will have powers to create jobs, safeguard jobs, support our home grown businesses and improve public transport.

It will control and influence of a budget of over £1bn per year. That doesn't sound like a talking shop.

S White,
Bishop Auckland.

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