Thursday, September 30, 2004

Latest Poll...59% of Chronicle Readers Say No

In a poll 59% of the Newcastle evening Chronicle Readers questioned in a poll said no to a regional assembly.

It must be accurate 'cos three quarters also said that they didn't trust Tony Blair.

To read the full poll results click here

Press Release

North East No Campaign
30th September 2004

Government uses costs as a weapon. Judicial Review dropped

The action by the North East No Campaign to force the Government to issue a correction to the 'Have Your Say' Leaflet has been dropped.

The No Campaign wished to have the North East public made fully aware that the statement in the leaflet that the election to the Assembly would be by 'proportional representation,' was wholly misleading as the majority (the constituency members) would be elected by first past the post.

As the Treasury Solicitors worked frantically to respond to the writ over the weekend they repeatedly offered to forego costs if we dropped the case. However, when their defence came before the Judge on Monday they asked for the pre-emptive capping order on costs to be removed. This would leave the No Campaign facing massive potential costs of tens of thousands should the case go to a full hearing.

Neil Herron states, "We believed that the public had a right to be fully aware of the voting system that was being offered. It is ironic that on the ODPM website they have now changed the wording to precisely what we requested, (see section 11) but were prepared to vigorously defend their misleading leaflet. Needless to say we are not surprised that they used costs as a weapon. We are disappointed that NESNO chose not to join us. We had an agreement in principle personally from John Elliott on Thursday morning. He was to put the request for support to the Board. We are still waiting for their response."

The Yes Campaign remain silent on the issue. Perhaps they would like to explain exactly how this new form of government would be elected in a way that will prevent single party domination.

The Government has confirmed that the correction on the cost of local reorganisation will be going out to 220,000 Durham homes on 27th September ( it still hasn't been confirmed by the Royal Mail that they have received the correction letters from the ODPM. Perhaps they are still in the post).


Neil Herron
Campaign Director
North East No Campaign
Frederick Street
Sunderland Tel 0191 565 7143


'Have Your Say Leaflet' Statement..." The Government intends that a North East Assembly would consist of around 25 elected members to represent different views and parts of the region. They would be elected - as in Scotland, Wales and London - by a system of proportional representation to help prevent domination by a single party and to help ensure a balance of opinion. Elections would be held every four years."

North East No Campaign asked for it to be replaced with, " The Government intends that a North East Assembly would consist of around 25 elected members to represent different views and parts of the region. The majority of members representing individual constituencies will be elected by 'the first past the post' system, with a minority being elected from regional lists to ensure that the overall representation in an assembly is broadly representative of the votes cast. Elections would be held every four years."

This is the precise wording taken from the Government's own document (see below)


Proposed Statutory Guidance to the Electoral Commisssion

North East No Campaign Judicial Review Application

'Foot in Mouth' disease flares up again

Mr. Robb walks into the arena with 'basic' arguments worthy of a newcomer to the debate and sets up a 'softball' for the Yes Campaign to come back with a broadside.

He forgot to put in his letter that he is NESNO's spokesman, and the Yes Campaign are fully aware that he is also North East spokesman for the Conservative Party setting himself up for a fall...and I am sure the Yes Campaign will not miss this one either.

We spent yesterday exposing the Yes Campaign letter writers as Labour Councillors and Trade Union convenors with letters into the press accordingly for non-disclosure of 'other' interests and then we witness another 'foot in mouth' outbreak from the Conservative NESNO campaign.

The more they deny that they are 'Conservative' the more they will keep the 'foot in mouth' outbreak going.
"An assembly will cost lots..." Glad to see Mr. Robb is being well briefed. Keep up the good work NESNO.

Oh, and Mr. Robb, it wasn't a straightforward poll of 888 members. That was the number that responded. If you click here you can see the full press release from the NECC.

Newcastle Journal
30th September
Letters Page

Assembly will mean politicians talk while we pay
The Yes campaigners for a North East Assembly have a set pattern for their campaign: play the man and not the ball.

Firstly, they erroneously claimed the No side is a party political "Conservative" campaign.

Now they attack the North East Chamber of Commerce for a "biased" survey of members after a straightforward poll of 888 members showed 74% against an assembly.

As a member of the Chamber of Commerce I realised that an assembly will cost people lots with no benefit.

In the first year of running the assembly will cost arounmd £25m, which will be added to council tax. This money would otherwise be circulating in the economy. After the first year the running costs would be many more millions.

Yes campaigners are rattled. They realise people are catching on that under their proposals politicians will talk while we pay.

Graham Robb
Middleton St George
Parents hold power balance
Sep 30 2004
By Graeme Whitfield, The Journal

Parents fighting for the future of 45 middle schools are threatening to skew November's regional assembly ballot - by turning it into a vote of confidence on their education authority.

Parents in Northumberland are planning to vote for a regional assembly because it gives them a second vote on the county's local government structure - and the chance to get rid of Northumberland County Council.

Thousands of parents in Northumberland oppose the county council's plans to get rid of middle schools.
And some believe the regional assembly vote will give them a back-door opportunity of seeing off the schools re-organisation by effectively making the county council redundant.

Campaigners opposing the regional assembly last night appealed to parents not to sway the regional assembly vote by trying to save middle schools.
But even some parents who are against the assembly say they will vote for it simply because it offers a chance to derail the school closure plans.
Middle school campaigners in Bedlington have sent a newsletter to parents telling them that the referendum offers an "opportunity" to save the middle schools.
Other action groups are also planning to vote for the assembly.
Bedlington action group chairman Brian Thompson said: "My personal view is that I would vote no to a regional assembly. But I feel
strongly about education so I will probably vote yes and then vote for two councils in Northumberland."

A spokesman for the North East Says No campaign last night said: "We understand and sympathise with the strength of feeling among these campaigners but would disagree that voting for an assembly is the answer to their problems.
"Whichever unitary authority inherits Northumberland's responsibility for education will also inherit the difficulties which led to the county council's policy - there are no new resources on offer."

Neil Herron, of the North-East No Campaign, added: "It should be a clear vote for an assembly, yes or no, and to tie it in with other issues is wrong."
Hexham MP Peter Atkinson - himself an opponent of a regional assembly - warned that a campaign by middle school parents could sway a close vote. And he added: "There's a very real danger we could end up with the worst of both worlds."

If the region votes for an assembly at the referendum in November, the current system of district and county councils in both Northumberland and Durham will be replaced with unitary authorities. District council leaders in Northumberland have hinted some middles could be saved.

The Northumberland Education Action Group has stayed out of the regional assembly debate, but individual parents and middle school groups see the referendum as the best way of blunting the county council's plans.

A county council spokesman said last night: "This problem will not go away and creating two unitary authorities will cause more problems than it would solve. Every parent and teacher is aware that there are 3,000 surplus places, an abundance of school sites, a growing £100m backlog of repairs to ailing school buildings, as well as issues regarding raising performance."

A spokesman for the Yes4theNorthEast campaign said: "With 1.8m voters across the region there are lots of different issues that will impact on way people vote in this referendum."

* Government chief whip Hilary Armstrong, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and election chief Alan Milburn joined Teesside opera star Suzannah Clark to promote a North-East assembly through song.

The bizarre scene of Mr Milburn straining to reach the high notes of Jerusalem was prompted by the arrival in Brighton of the Corus Chorus - a crew of Redcar steelworkers who will officially close the conference today by singing The Red Flag.
And with pupils from Redcar Community College, they also crooned a special `Yes for the North-East' message across the conference centre.

Parents hold power balance

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Your chance to take part in the great debates

Do you want to take part in the Regional Assembly debate?

Do you have a specific question for the "Yes" or "No" campaigns?

If so, now is your chance - wherever you live in the North-East.
The Journal, in association with networking company The Bridge Club, has organised a series of Regional Assembly Debates where readers can put questions to leading members of both campaigns.

The first debate takes place at Newcastle University's Curtis Auditorium on Tuesday. This will be followed by events in Hexham on October 13, Durham on October 19 and Alnwick on October 26.

Tuesday's event in Newcastle will feature "Yes" campaigners Professor John Tomaney, chairman of the Yes 4 The North East, and Joe Docherty, chief executive of Tees Valley Regeneration.

The "No" campaign will be represented by North East Says No chairman John Elliott and Nesno spokesman Graham Robb.

The Question Time style event will be chaired by former BBC North East Political Correspondent Tony Baker.

The evenings will conclude with each panelist making a their case to the audience who will then vote on the issue.

This part of the evening will be hosted by The Bridge Club managing director Caroline Theobald.

Journal Editor Brian Aitken said: "The regional assembly referendum is a major political event for the North-East and it is important that the issues are thoroughly debated.
"We believe these events will bring the debate and the issues directly to the electorate."

The Hexham Event takes place at the Queen's Hall, the debate in Durham will be held at Durham University's Scarbrough Lecture Theatre and Alnwick Playhouse is the venue for the Alnwick debate. All four events begin at 7.30pm and will be on a first come first served basis.
Details of the panels at each of these events will be announced nearer the time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Calls start coming in...from Conservatives

We have received the sixth call in two days from Conservative branch 'grass roots' activists worried that NESNO has been deliberately set up to lose the referendum.

They have had sight of NESNO's leaflet and have said it is 'atrocious.' As it stands at the minute we at the No Campaign, have not been given a copy so we will reserve judgment.

However, grassroots Tories are wishing to be supplied with North East No Campaign leaflets.

Another call has just come in asking if the People's Campaign can stand a candidate against Conservative MP, Peter Atkinson in Hexham in the next General Election because they are disgusted at the way the Conservative NESNO campaign has behaved. If anyone wishes to look at the only North East Tory MP's marginal seat click here.

With only one MP and one MEP in the North East surely the Conservatives would not wish to deliberately sabotage the No campaign in order to end up with a new political institution where they would have greater representation.

Letter Writers Exposed...Undercover Elephants

It seems that the Yes Campaign is using Undercover Elephants to write letters supporting a Yes Vote. Two of them are exposed in today's Northern Echo.

Dr. Simon Henig bills himself as Senior Lecturer in Politics at Sunderland University. Click here to see the undercover elephant. Deputy Labour Leader Chester Le Street Council.

Labour Councillor David Taylor-Gooby forgot to declare his 'interest.' Click here to see how his trunk sticks out.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Philip Latham is a frequent letter writer. Click here

More rows in the Counties and Districts

County under fire over cuts claims
Sep 29 2004
By Dave Black, The Journal

A new row has erupted over local government reform in Northumberland after the county council was accused of deliberately delaying controversial cuts in services.

Six district councils have sparked a fresh war of words over the town halls shake-up by claiming county council bosses are putting off "drastic" cutbacks until after the crunch referendum vote next month.

District leaders yesterday challenged the county to "come clean" about what they say are looming cuts, including the closure of middle schools, old people's homes, libraries and fire stations.

They say the county council is holding back on the highly-contentious moves until after the vote on the future of local government in the county.

The claims sparked an angry response last night from county council leader Coun Michael Davey who described them as nonsense and accused the districts of lacking the courage to make tough decisions.

Northumberland County Council is caught up in a huge row with parents over plans to axe 45 middle schools and switch to a two-tier education system.

Claims were made recently by the Fire Brigades' Union that up to four operational fire stations in Cramlington, Blyth, Ashington and Morpeth could close and be replaced by two new ones under a modernisation drive. The future of council-run old people's homes in Northumberland has been unclear since plans to close three were dropped earlier this year following a storm of protest. And there have been persistent rumours - denied by the county council - that up to nine libraries are in line for closure.

Northumberland County Council is campaigning for the county to be run by a single, unitary authority in the event of a yes vote in the November referendum on a North-East Regional Assembly.

It is at loggerheads with the six districts which favour two unitaries.

Berwick Borough Council leader Coun Tony Hughes said yesterday on behalf of the districts: "They (the county council) have delayed making decisions on closing middle schools against parents' wishes, they have delayed making decisions on the future of old peoples homes, they have decisions to make on the closure of libraries and, most recently, they have announced the possible closure of local fire stations.
"They don't want the bad news to come out in advance of a vote that will determine the county council's future.
"We challenge the county to come clean and announce its intentions."

Coun Davey said: "We are taking tough decisions and for the right reasons. For example, we are tackling under-achievement in our schools in the run-up to this referendum. We have delayed nothing.
"It would be a betrayal of our parents and pupils not to have tackled the schools issue this year. It would have been wrong not to have engaged older people in the future of our homes. We have no intention of making decisions on libraries and fire stations and would not, in any event, without full consultation.
"We have not, would not and will not delay a single decision that would make a difference to people's lives. The tragedy is that the districts probably would not have had the courage to take tough decisions. That is what we do

Letters exposing misrepresentation cover the region

Northumberland Gazette

Same old party politics in new assembly
THE Government has made misleading statements in its “Have Your Say” leaflet, delivered to every household in the North East prior to the referendum on a regional assembly.

In particular, it says that there will be around 25 elected members.

It states: “they would be elected – as in Scotland, Wales and London – by a system of proportional representation to help prevent domination by a single party and to help ensure a balance of opinion”.

Sounds fine, but an examination of the actual Bill shows that the picture is very different. There will, in fact, be “constituency members” and “regional members”, and all the constituency members will be elected on the 'first past the post’ system, by simple majority. “The constituency members will make up the majority”.

In other words, the same old party domination will be very evident. If any independent does try to stand for election, he or she is going to face an uphill struggle unless he or she is very wealthy. How, for example, could an individual canvas or leaflet 1.9 million voters and have any hope of being elected as a regional representative under PR?
Lynne Thompson,Supporting the North East No Campaign,Chathill.

NECC Poll rattles Yes Campaign into desperatesville

Every single letter in the Northern Echo is from the Yes Campaign.
Dr. Simon Henig is also Deputy Labour Leader of Chester Le Street Council.
Now trying the 'right-winger' angle as well...desperate times call for desperate measures.


The details of the poll of businesses (Echo, Sept 27) reveal that the conclusions drawn should have been much more open to doubt than the dramatic front page headlines suggested.

Not only was the survey confined to one organisation, which does not represent all businesses in the region, fewer than one in four of its members returned their survey forms, suggesting that it was only those who were really motivated who took part.

For example, just 126 bothered to respond in Durham, out of thousands of businesses in the county, too low a number for clear conclusions to be drawn.

Opinion polls do not work as a barometer of views when they rely on respondents returning surveys themselves, which more often than not produces a self-selecting sample who are usually biased in one direction or another.

This is why the main polling companies (and earlier polls) will seek out a representative sample - a necessary condition for predicting the behaviour of a wider group.
From the details I have seen, this was not a representative sample and therefore not a scientific poll. It should not have been treated as such.
Dr Simon Henig, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Sunderland.
Oor response...
The Northern Echo Letters Editor
Dear Sir / Madam
Dr Simon Henig, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Sunderland University is critical of the Northern Echo's front page headline of 74% of businesses saying No to an assembly and that it 'was not representative, and therefore not scientific. It should not have been treated as such.'
Perhaps next time Dr. Henig speaks about clarity,accuracy and misleading statements, he should remember to mention that he is also Deputy Labour Leader of Chester Le Street Council.
His repeated failure to mention this when speaking on radio or in print
So, Simon, after being caught out three times doing this I am sure that you will never wish to attempt to mislead Echo readers in this way again.
Yours faithfully,
Neil Herron
Campaign Director
North East No Campaign
Frederick Street
Tel 0191 565 7143

IT is discouraging that the myth that business is opposed to the creation of an elected regional assembly is once again hitting the headlines.

It would appear that the members of the North East Chamber of Commerce (at least the 20 per cent of them who bothered to respond to the poll) are out of touch with the rest of the region.
Not only does the poll appear to be unrepresentative of North-East business, but it is in direct contradiction to other, more credible, polls which have consistently shown the Yes vote leading by about 2 to 1.

A regional assembly will be able to support business and bring more jobs and prosperity to the North-East. A view held by astute businessmen such as Sir John Hall and Brendan Foster.
As Brendan Foster himself said recently: "A regional assembly might not be Utopia but the status quo is not the answer either."

The status quo is all that the No campaign has to offer. This is a unique opportunity for the people of the North-East - let's not miss out because a handful of businessmen are too timid to grasp the future.
Alison Chappell, Newcastle.

YOUR massively over-the-top coverage of a questionable poll appears to be doing the No campaign's work for it.

I'm disappointed that a newspaper of your standing would give such credence to such weak material - only 20 per cent of those polled even responded. So even if 75 per cent of those opposed an assembly, that's only 15 per cent of all the business leaders asked.

Never mind that business leaders amount to under seven per cent of the whole North-East population, which, as the Yes campaign has shown, is 2 to 1 in favour of an assembly.
So whose opinion matters more - businessmen out to make as much money for themselves as possible, or normal North-Easterners?
Damian Lee, Sunderland.

AROUND 74 per cent of business people are against a North-East assembly. So is UKIP, so is the Conservative Party, so is the BNP and so are every other loopy right wing group.
That clinches it for me. I am definitely voting Yes in November.
Mark Winskell, Heaton.

I FEEL I had to respond to the prominent headlines in your newspaper that business is against the regional assembly.

This headline was derived from a small and unrepresentative poll of business "leaders".
Firstly, many business people are very firmly and vocally in support of the regional assembly. Many business leaders can see the advantage of a real voice for our region especially when Scotland, which already has devolved government, is on our doorstep.

If we do not get a regional assembly the advantages Scotland already has will mean our region will be further disadvantaged.

We will lose out on jobs and a vibrant regional economy. Seems like a case of shooting itself in the foot by the Chamber of Commerce.

Secondly, every positive reform is always opposed by the conservative minority and the Chamber of Commerce clearly falls into this category. Slavery, legitimising trade unions and sticking young people up chimneys were all opposed by businessmen in their day so it comes as no surprise this small, out of step minority are opposed to a regional assembly.

Finally, the referendum will be an opportunity for all of us to vote as to whether we want our region to have a greater voice. This is a vitally important constitutional issue.
This Government has given all of us a choice and I really hope people will take advantage of that choice and vote Yes.

Thankfully, this choice is not going to be made by the unrepresentative Chamber of Commerce.
Every legitimate poll has shown the majority of ordinary people are in favour of a greater voice for our region.
Ian Daley, Gateshead.

NOW that North-East Says No has launched its campaign we can see what it is about.
Campaign supporters seem to be making two main points.

Firstly, the assembly will be a waste of money, creating unnecessary jobs for politicians.
And secondly, it will be ineffective and does not have enough power to deal with the North-East's problems.

The creation of the assembly will actually lead to a reduction in the number of politicians by streamlining councils in Durham and Northumberland, something which many in local government have wanted for a long time. This will save money.

In addition, the new assembly will have roughly the same powers as the London Authority - less in areas like transport, but more in housing.

No-one is suggesting the North-East becomes a separate country like Wales or Scotland.
Devolution in London has been a success because the mayor and his assembly have been able to work in partnership with others to secure real benefits.
That is what the regional assembly will have to do.
David Taylor-Gooby, Peterlee.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

More evidence of a stitch up

In a telephone call to the North East No Campaign at 2.30pm today the House of Commons Library was enquiring about the written evidence put to the Select Committee on the Regional Assemblies Draft Preparations Bill by the North East Says No Campaign

This may puzzle some people that they came to us. They did not have NESNO's telephone number.

It may also puzzle some people that NESNO were listed as the No Campaign on the ODPM agenda for the Select Committee produced on 9th September for a meeting that was scheduled for the 15th. Click here for the agenda.

Puzzling because the Electoral Commission did not designate the official No campaign until 14th September.

Puzzling because the North East No Campaign was not invited to present evidence despite the fact that everyone comes to us, even when trying to contact NESNO.

Puzzling as to how NESNO were contacted by the Select Committee when even the House of Commons Library doesn't appear to have their number. Had the 'establishment' already made the decision?

Puzzling as to why the Electoral Commission, were still giving out our telephone number as the ' No Campaign' after designation.

The mess is gradually unravelling and more and more evidence of an establishment stitch-up of the People's No Campaign by the ODPM and the Electoral Commission is becoming apparent.

When Colin Moran of the No Campaign stated to Sam Younger, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, at an arranged meeting (Thursday 23rdSeptember) at Trevelyan House, that weeks ago Professor Tomaney of the Yes Campaign had stated, "you lot (No Campaign) will not get the money because you are not part of the 'establishment'," Sam Younger said nothing. He broke eye contact and did not refute or challenge the statement.

More will be revealed about this meeting in the coming days, but if you wish to read what Sam Younger said in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph about the decision of the Commission, please click here

What we find staggering is that the decision to hand over £100k of public money to NESNO (or even to us for that matter) was made without a telephone call to us or them (we can confirm we did not receive one) to see if we actually existed.

Today's Letters

Northern Echo
28th September

THE poll of business leaders about the regional assembly is a wearingly disappointing viewpoint.
The need for an assembly to have input into the commercial life of the region is obvious.

The present Regional Assembly has business leaders represented as well as health, voluntary and trade union sectors. It is to the good of everyone in business in the North-East to have a real say in the running of OneNorth East, in the places where roads and railways will be built and in the skill base needed to provide labour for the industry of the 21st century.

It is the role of business to encourage the growth of new companies and to help in attracting new work into the area. If there is a distrust of politicians by business, the way to resolve this is not by bad mouthing genuine attempts to make the region stronger and more democratically accountable, but to participate in this assembly where the proportional voting system could guarantee seats for business interests.

The business community has been wrongly portrayed by some of the No campaign as being self interested and insular. The real experience of politicians like myself is that where there is a meeting of minds and will between the political world and that of business only good comes from it.

The success of Nissan is a clear example. Who will speak for the North-East when the aircraft carrier contract is being negotiated?

There is a place for commerce at the heart of the region and when the region says Yes I hope that our great business people will come forward to serve with the others from the heart of the region.

The sneerers ought not to win this battle, let positive people do the work required.
Coun Colin Anderson, Sunderland.

Councillor Colin Anderson is disappointed at the viewpoint of business in delivering a resounding 'No' to an Assembly.
Disappointed perhaps because it looks like the gravy train which he wished to climb aboard is coming off the rails.
He mentions the current (unelected) Assembly. This is the same Colin Anderson, Sunderland Councillor, who was provided with full details of the misuse of public money by that very North East Assembly in promoting elected regional government, but did nothing. It was left to members of the public to secure censure from the District Auditor.
Then Mr. Anderson states, " the real experience of politicians like myself is that where there is a meeting of minds and will between the political world and that of business only good comes of it."
Your readers will be somewhat staggered to know that this is the same Colin Anderson, who embarked on the prosecution of the late Metric Martyr, Steve Thoburn. Mr. Anderson did more damage to the city of Sunderland and the relationship between politicians and business than perhaps any other politician in recent history. The first authority to prosecute a greengrocer for selling a pound of bananas.
No Mr. Anderson, you and your ilk are so far out of touch with the people and business that you can see no further than endorsing another institution created for the furtherance of political careers.
The naysayers, as you call those who amongst other things do not wish to see their council taxes rise, have seen through your insulting and insincere comments about the real wealth creators in the region.
The No Campaign are positive.Positive that the people of the region will not fall for this monument to the hubris and arrogance of the North East's political mafia.
Oh, and Mr. Anderson, please explain this 'proportional representation' misnomer when the ODPM's own website states that the majority elected will be first past the post.

IF ever there was a reason for voting No to a regional assembly it is the recent case of the Wear Valley councillor who resides in the Dominican Republic, but who continues to pick up his allowance.

The same people who run things locally now will no doubt put their names forward for the assembly. Once they are elected, as many will be, they will vote themselves a hefty increase in their allowances with little or no thought for the poor tax payer.

There will be, as now, little or no policing of the claims they make or the amount of such payments. What was once a service to the public has, I am afraid, become a massive self rewarding gravy train.
D Colton, Yarm.

THE Government has made misleading statements in its 'Have Your Say' delivered to every household in the North-East prior to the referendum on a regional assembly.

In particular, it says that there will be around 25 elected members - "they would be elected as in Scotland, Wales and London, by a system of proportional representation to help prevent domination by a single party and to help ensure a balance of opinion".

Sounds fine, but an examination of the actual Bill shows that the picture is very different. There will in fact be 'constituency members' and 'regional members' and all the constituency members will be elected on the 'first past the post' system, by simple majority. 'The constituency members will make up the majority'. In other words the same old party domination will be very evident.

If any independent does try to stand for election, he or she is going to have an uphill struggle unless he or she is very wealthy. How, for example, could an individual canvas or leaflet 1.9 million voters and have any hope of being elected as a regional representative under PR?
So much for the Government's 'information' campaign.
Mrs D Thompson,
North-East 'No' Campaign,


Democracy Movement regional organiser, Archie Speirs, has been rebuffed by the NESNO campaign.

Archie called the NESNO office over the week-end But no-one was available, so he contacted Alex Ray by mobile offering his, and other volunteers services for leafleting. When Archie mentioned that he was doing the same for the North East No Campaign the line went dead.

Undeterred, Archie, committed to the cause, rang the NESNO office in Durham a number of times and was told the person he needed to speak to was either in a meeting or on the phone.

He is still waiting for someone to call him back.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Journal Letters

CBI is missing a major opportunity for influence
Sep 27 2004
By The Journal

The decision by the CBI not to endorse plans for a North-East regional assembly is shortsighted (Home rule blow, September 24).

The establishment and development of the new assembly, like a new business, will take time and effort. A truly great North-East assembly will only happen through positive engagement and collaboration between all parts of the community over time.

Walking away from this great opportunity, before things even get started, is not a very constructive way to be involved or to influence how the assembly develops.

The proposed assembly will bring new powers to the region that will make a big difference to economic prosperity and the creation of new jobs, and will be a spring-board for great things in the future.

But first things first, let's get the new North-East assembly going or there'll be no new regional powers, no new regional responsibilities, no democratically-accountable regional decision-making and no business involvement and influence in that decision-making process.

Voting system will treat independents reasonably
NEIL Herron of the original North-East No-campaign seems to lack understanding of the proposed voting system, claiming it will not be proportional.

It is true that of the 25 seats the first 15 or so will be elected by first-past-the-post in constituencies.

However, the remaining 10 will then be allocated on a regional basis, taking into account seats already won by the various parties in the constituencies.

The aim is to achieve overall proportionality across the region. The system also gives independents a reasonable chance. Mr Herron himself would be elected if he were to repeat his European vote.

I would not pretend that it's a perfect system, but it seems to have worked well enough in Scotland, Wales and London.
So let's get on with it and vote "yes".

Opponents of assembly have no faith in North-East people
THE people of the North-East are proud, hard working and fiercely independent.
If an account were drawn up of our contributions to Britain through the ages we would be well into the black.

The area has suffered hardships and indignity that it never deserved because governments anchored in the South treated the area with disdain.

Now, by electing a regional assembly, we can take back into our own hands some of the power we need to continue our regeneration, whatever government sits in Westminster.

We will have control of economic development both in the area and from outside, major influence over health problems, control of money for roads and other transport investment, control over land and strategic planning, control of a regional fire service, a policy of sustainability in our new ventures and influence over training and post-16 education.

There is a very special call to the younger people in the area to vote for an assembly.
They are the people who need to see a future of work, stability and progress as they bring up their children and invest their lives into the area. It is fresh thinking for a new century that is needed and they stand to gain most.

It is obvious that the opponents of the assembly have no faith in the North-East nor the people who will elect the assembly.

The No campaign has been, for the most part, a sneering rejection of the ability of our people to rule themselves and to find real answers to the problems of the area. It seems to me that many of our problems are imported to the area or imposed upon us by cynical former politicians.
The North-East is not full of thick docile voters who will elect dunderheads, which is the impression that parts of the No campaign readily gives.

We're talking history, not conspiracies, here
COUN Sir Jeremy Beecham (Letters Sept 23) refers to "conspiracy-theorists who detect a Brussels plot behind a proposal originally made long before the UK joined the then EEC".
This is reminiscent of Prof John Tomaney's description of regionalisation opponents as "a small group of conspiracy-theorists found lurking in the twilight internet world".

Sir Jeremy is presumably suggesting, as did Prof Tomaney, that UK regionalisation began in the 40s, but fails to point out that neither then, nor in the 60s when eight (not 12) economic planning councils were set up, were the regions expected to fulfil anything other than an administrative function for a specific and temporary purpose.

Regionalisation only became essential in 1975 when the European Commission launched its regional development fund.

But there has been no "Brussels conspiracy".

The EU has regularly published maps of its regions and local government areas since 1974.
British governments, on the other hand, have followed the advice of 70s civil servants not to reveal any aspects of Brussels' activities that might be unpopular with voters.
The reason for the secrecy is the same reason why devolution was not presented to voters in the UK as a whole but had to be spearheaded by Scotland and a reluctant Wales steamrollered through the following day, with Labour's loyal North-East lined up to continue the "rolling process" into England.

Regional government was imposed on Germany by the victorious allies to weaken the country; this is a fact of history, not a conspiracy theory.
Assembly proposals 'half-baked'
Sep 24 2004
By Evening Gazette

Small business owners have criticised North-east Assembly proposals as a "half-baked dog's dinner".

The Forum of Private Business chief executive Nick Goulding said: "Many of our North-east members are unconvinced that what is proposed will create anything other than another layer of toothless and expensive politicians and bureaucracy.

"What is on offer is no more than a pathetic imitation of devolution, a half-baked dog's dinner.

The assembly would have no power over public services and control over less than 2pc of Government expenditure in the region. Small businesses do not want decision making taken away from their local councils."

* For an archive of stories on this subject click here
Sunday Telegraph Letters
Date: 26 September 2004

In his article on the proposed regional government for the North East, Christopher Booker suggests that the Electoral Commissioners overruled the advice of officials in taking the decision to designate the lead campaign organisation for the "No" side, "in a way that plays into the hands of Government" (News, Sept 19).

It had in fact been agreed before the referendum period that the commissioners would take that decision independently of staff, and no advice was therefore provided.

All information submitted by the potential designated organisations was given directly to commissioners. In the view of the commissioners, North East Says No Ltd represented to the greatest extent those campaigning for a "No" outcome.
Sam Younger, Chairman,
The Electoral Commission,
London SW1

North East's Biggest City Says No

Press Release
North East No Campaign
27th September

In an online poll the people of Sunderland delivered a very loud message to those campaigning for a Geordie Parliament.

The people of the biggest city between Leeds and Edinburgh overwhelmingly rejected an Elected Regional Assembly by 94% (No) to 2% (Yes) with 2% undecided.

Sunderland based North East No Campaign's Neil Herron states, " We are surprised by the results. Obviously we need to work harder to convince that 2% who are undecided. We were considering a series of posters across Sunderland with former Newcastle United Chairman, Sir John Hall in a magpie shirt drinking Newcastle Brown Ale saying 'Vote for Wor Geordie Parliament.' In light of this poll result we must assume that the 2% who wish to vote Yes understand the issue in black and white."

Neil Herron
Campaign Director
North East No Campaign
Frederick Street

More bad news for Yes

Support in shires lukewarm
Sep 27 2004
By The Journal

The poll showed greater support for a `Yes' vote in the counties of Durham and Northumberland, but even in the most supportive area, County Durham, only 34.1pc were in favour.

The most sceptical part of the region was the Tees Valley, where just 21.6pc of bosses plan to vote `Yes'.

In County Durham, more than two-thirds say they will vote to establish just one unitary authority.

In Northumberland, a slight majority favoured splitting it into two councils.

Durham County Council leader Ken Manton, who supports the single-council option, said: "With three local authorities costing £25m a year more to run than one, and three costing £12m more to set up than one, it is hardly surprising that businesses favour the one unitary option."

Prescott now exposed as desperate

In the last throw of the dice, this is all that Prescott has left. Designation by the Electoral Commission to Conservative NESNO has left the Deputy Prime Minister with only one card left to play. Sadly for him, and in light of the statement by the North East Chamber of Commerce, it is no longer an ace he has is the joker. The mountain the Yes campaign have left to climb is now the equivalent of Hannibal crossing the Alps with the elephants on his back!

It's Labour v Tories, party told
Sep 27 2004
By The Journal

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott yesterday made the North-East assembly referendum party political, as he claimed the choice was to vote `Yes' with Labour or `No' with the Tories.
Mr Prescott urged delegates at the Labour Party conference to get behind the campaign for a `Yes' vote when ballot papers go to voters next month.

He rallied party members by painting the debate as Labour versus Conservatives.
"It's a choice to go backwards with the Tories with a `No' vote or to vote `Yes' with Labour," he said.
His words annoyed campaigners on both sides of the debate, who have tried to keep party politics out of the campaign.
Yes4theNorthEast chairman John Tomaney said: "We have support from across the political spectrum for a `Yes' vote, but this is not about party politics, it's about the future of the North-East."
North East Says No, which is backed by the Conservatives and UKIP, said: "The fact is the `Yes' campaign is finding it increasingly difficult to sell an assembly that will have no power to do any good, so they're reduced to party-political attacks. It's pathetic, but unfortunately not surprising."

The full press release from NECC

News release 26 September 2004
Monday, September 27
Calls for the Government to act swiftly to salvage plans for regional assembly - Nearly 75 per cent of North East businesses would vote No to regional government

THE Government has six weeks to convince voters of the merits of a regional assembly or it will face embarrassment at the polls, a survey has revealed.

One of the biggest assessments of opinion to date has indicated the business community will vote against a North East Regional Assembly unless the Government can prove it would significantly change people's daily lives.

The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) presented its members with identical questions to those that will appear in the official referendum on November 4. Of nearly 900 responses, 74 per cent indicated they would vote No to an elected assembly. The news will be a sharp indicator to Labour - on theopening morning of its annual conference in Brighton - that the regional government agenda is potentially faltering.

To date, business has been one of the leading sections of society to show an interest in the outcome of the vote, suggesting this survey will be an early barometer of the likely referendum result.

NECC has a diverse membership base across the region - from sole tradersto major multi-nationals and from all sectors - and the survey results show theGovernment has yet to address deep rooted concerns throughout industry.

NECC, in conjunction with other business organisations in the region, presented ten key tests to John Prescott last November that it felt mustbe satisfied before a clear cut decision could be made.

To date, one test has failed, two have been met and seven are still ambiguous.

George Cowcher, NECC chief executive, said: "This survey sends a stark warning that a major facet of the North East community has yet to beconvinced that a regional assembly would be a benefit."

The business sector was willing from the outset to listen to both sides of the debate but it would appear that there is still too little flesh on the bones of the Yes campaign to convince companies that there is a tangible argument for change. "The results of this survey should be seen as a challenge for crucial areas of confusion to be clarified. Only then will business buy in to the merits of an elected assembly."

Alan Ferguson, NECC president, said of the result: "The majority ofbusinesses responding to the survey are just not convinced at all by theargument for an elected regional assembly in its current form and feelit would be just more bureaucracy which we could do without."Mr Ferguson, who is executive chairman of Fergusons Transport, based in Blyth, Northumberland, added: "Personally, I believe we are in a Catch22 situation. If we vote against an assembly, we will be accused by theGovernment of not taking this opportunity. But if we say yes, we willget the blame if it is not a success."I believe a no vote is a vote for the status quo and I do not like the status quo. We have been poorly served by the status quo in the past."

Feedback from the business community has shown three key areas ofconcern:
  • Costs - there are genuine fears that an elected assembly will cost more than current arrangements and be an additional burden on North East business
  • Toothless - the powers for the new assembly are general and mainly aboutsetting strategies rather than making decisions. For the many businesses looking for improvements in the skills base and transport infrastructure, this is a major concern
  • Isolated - the North East is already the most remote part of England from its legislature. An elected regional assembly is seen to be a barrier to government investment, or worse an excuse to marginalise the region

John Irwin, director of Storeys:ssp which has operations in Newcastle, Teesside, Manchester and Leeds, expressed his concerns: "I remain to be convinced about the value of a regional assembly. The Government has yet to answer to any degree of satisfaction the key questions regarding such an elected body."It is right that the North East needs a better voice nationally, but it remains to be seen if this is the right voice. "Unless the Government gives the assembly any meaningful powers it is hard to see why anyone would logically want to vote Yes on November 4."

Those businesses in favour of an elected assembly believe a number ofbenefits will be had from voting Yes:

  • Change - anything is better than the status quo, and an elected regional assembly is all that is on offer
  • Growing responsibility - that the current portfolio of powers will be simply a first step and that the assembly could be a more powerful, more effective body in the coming years
  • Success elsewhere - the strong performance of economies in Wales, Scotland and London post-devolution

Jeff Fryer, managing director of County Durham-based construction company M&M Plasline Ltd, said: "I scrape in as a Yes vote despite being able to empathise with the No vote. There are several unknowns, not least of which is the quality of the leadership available. "However, there is a saying 'If you always do what you have always done you will always have what you always get'. I cannot say I am comfortable by that so I am taking a leap of faith in the region's ability to drive its own future. "We need to think positively to make it happen.


Notes about the survey

1) The Business Referendum 2004 survey was a postal ballot of North East Chamber of Commerce members.

In total, 4052 survey papers were mailed on September 2, 2004 with a closing date of September 24, 2004

2) The questions posed were identical to those that will appear in the official referendum with an initial question: Should there be an elected assembly for the North East region. Durham and Northumberland members were also invited to express their preferred type of unitary authority should the result of the referendum be a 'Yes' vote for an elected regional assembly. > (The result of the supplementary question is available on request)

3) The result of the referendum question is as follows: Question: Should there be an elected assembly for the North East region?

TOTAL Durham Northumberland Tees Valley Tyne and Wear

Yes 26.4% 34.1% 30.9% 21.6% 25.7%

No 73.6% 65.9% 69.1% 78.4% 74.3%

Numbers of votes:

TOTAL Durham Northumberland Tees Valley Tyne and Wear

Yes 234 43 29 51 111

No 654 83 65 185 321

Northern Echo
Business bosses reject N-E assembly
Nigel Burton

A poll of North-East businesses delivered a devastating rejection of regional government last night and reignited the debate over plans for self- government.

A survey released on the eve of the Labour Party conference showed a big majority of small businesses opposed to a North-East regional assembly.

But campaigners in favour of self-government attacked the survey as unrepresentative. They pointed to polls carried out among the wider public which show a majority in favour of the idea.

The North East Chamber of Commerce presented more than 4,000 members with questions identical to those in the official referendum on November 4.

Of nearly 900 responses, 74 per cent indicated they would vote No to an elected assembly unless the Government could prove it would significantly change people's lives.

The poll will be another headache for Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Labour Party conference opens today.

To date, business has been one of the leading sections of society to show an interest in the outcome of the vote.

The chamber has a diverse membership - from sole traders to multi-nationals and from all sectors - and the survey shows the Government has yet to address concerns throughout industry.

The three main fears were:

* that the assembly will add an extra layer of cost;

* that it could turn out to be a toothless talking shop;

* that an it could marginalise the region still further.

Chamber chief executive George Cowcher said: "This survey sends a stark warning that a major facet of the North-East community has yet to be convinced that a regional assembly would be a benefit."

Chamber president Alan Ferguson, executive chairman of Fergusons Transport, of Blyth, said: "The majority of businesses responding to the survey are just not convinced at all by the argument for an elected regional assembly in its current form."

Businesses in favour said an assembly would grow in status and influence.

Jeff Fryer, managing director of County Durham construction company M&M Plasline, said: "I scrape in as a Yes vote, despite being able to empathise with the No vote.
"We need to think positively to make it happen."

Durham County Council leader Ken Manton urged members to allow it time to develop and prove itself.

Leader of District of Easington Council Alan Napier, spokesman for the Local Choice - Local Voice group, which promotes a three unitary council option, said: "The information provided to businesses with the chamber's ballot paper was so biased and subjective that the result cannot be viewed as a fair assessment."

Ross Forbes, director of the Yes campaign, said: "The chamber survey is makeshift, badly structured and negatively presented."

Like the chamber, the CBI North East Council will not be telling members how to vote in this autumn's referendum.

Council member Bob Coxon, chairman of the Centre for Process Innovation on Teesside, said: "I firmly believe that an elected North- East Regional Assembly will benefit the business world.

Stockton North Labour MP Frank Cook said: "If there is any truth in that report, it demonstrates the level of myopia in some of our small and medium businesses."

Another nail in the Yes Campaign coffin

74% say 'no' to Assembly
Sep 27 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal

Company bosses will vote overwhelmingly against setting up a North-East Assembly, a poll of nearly 900 firms reveals today.

The news is a blow to the Government's devolution plans on the first morning of the Labour Party conference.

The poll, conducted by the North-East Chamber of Commerce, found 74pc of members will vote `no' when ballot papers for the upcoming referendum are delivered next month.

Respondents' chief concerns were the cost of the assembly, the lack of powers over skills and transport, and a fear it would act as a barrier to decision-makers in Whitehall.

It also casts doubt upon claims by assembly backers that its chief benefits will be increasing the region's prosperity and helping job creation.

`Yes' campaigners last night claimed members were given "limited and biased information" by the chamber.

But the chamber's chief executive, George Cowcher, said: "This survey sends a stark warning that a major facet of the North-East community has yet to be convinced that a regional assembly would be a benefit.

"The business sector was willing from the outset to listen to both sides of the debate but it would appear that there is still too little flesh on the bones of the `yes' campaign to convince companies that there is a tangible argument for change.
"The results of this survey should be seen as a challenge for crucial areas of confusion to be clarified. "Only then will business buy in to the merits of an elected assembly."

President Alan Ferguson added: "Personally, I believe we are in a Catch 22 situation. If we vote against an assembly, we will be accused by the Government of not taking this opportunity. But if we say yes, we will get the blame if it is not a success.
"I believe a `no' vote is a vote for the status quo and I do not like the status quo. We have been poorly served by the status quo in the past."

The survey result comes on the back of last week's meeting of the CBI's North-East regional council, which prompted chairman Rod Taylor to issue a statement highly sceptical of an assembly.

However, that was viewed as mildly good news by `yes' campaigners, as he stopped short of recommending a vote against devolution in the referendum. But the `no' camp claimed this result makes business opposition clear.

North-East Says No chairman John Elliott said: "When people cast their vote they should remember that business people are opposed to this assembly and it is these people - not the politicians - that create the jobs in this region.
"Businesses are concerned that an assembly will be all cost and no benefit.
"I am not remotely surprised by the poll results - the only people that will benefit from the assembly are those people that we don't want any more of - politicians and their spin doctors."

Ross Forbes, director of Yes4theNorthEast, said: "The chamber survey is makeshift, badly structured and negatively presented.
"NECC members have been asked to make a decision on limited and biased information.
"Any results the poll produces can hardly be called scientific or representative."
A poll conducted on behalf of the `yes' campaign earlier showed two-thirds of the region will vote `yes'.

CBI North director Steve Rankin said: "This is clearly and emphatic reinforcement of the position which the CBI has taken.
"It certainly gives the lie to those who have suggested that we have been misrepresenting the business viewpoint in this matter.
"This is further evidence that the business community in the North-East is very disillusioned with these proposals."

National Coverage as stakes get higher

Sunday Telegraph
Christopher Booker's Notebook

(Filed: 26/09/2004)

Prescott gets assembly writ
Still largely ignored by the media, the soap opera of the referendum campaign on John Prescott's plans to set up an elected regional assembly for the North East continues.

On Friday, lawyers for Neil Herron's "North East No" campaign served a High Court writ on Mr Prescott, to force him to correct a leaflet sent to to North East voters that claims that elections to the new assembly will only be by proportional representation. His own Regional Assemblies Bill makes clear that two-thirds of assembly members will be elected on a "first past the post" system.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has already admitted another inaccuracy in the leaflet, understating the cost of reorganising local government in Co Durham. It proposes to remedy this by sending out a corrected leaflet, but only to 200,000 voters in Durham; not to the region's other 1.7 million voters, who are thus being invited to vote on what is admitted to be false information.

The Electoral Commission has also been served an injunction. It failed to check the ODPM's misleading leaflet, and was last week defending its decision to give £100,000 of taxpayers' money to a rival "No" campaign, Nesno (North East Says No), run by the Tories - a party so weak in the North East that it no longer has a anyone on Newcastle council. Since one of Nesno's objections to any assembly is that it will not be given enough powers, it has been dubbed the "Yesno campaign".

The "Yes" campaign was last week boasting of a poll, commissioned by itself, showing a 2:1 majority in favour of an elected assembly; whereas an internet poll run by The Sunderland Echo was showing 94 per cent against.

Confronted by such confusion, it seems the "Don't know campaign'' is leading by quite a margin.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Judicial Review Papers Lodged

The papers were lodged at the Royal Courts of Justice at 3.11pm on Friday 24th September calling for a Judicial Review of the Government's decision not to correct the misleading and factually incorrect statements in the 'Have Your Say' leaflet which went out to 1,900,000 voters.

The full application can be seen on the No Campaign's website. Simply click here

The writ was served later in the day on the Treasury Solicitor acting for the First Secretarty of State. A copy was also served on the Electoral Commission by Neil Herron and Colin Moran. The Electoral Commission have been attached to the proceedings as an 'interested' party.

Liberal Party Chairman calls for a No vote

Cllr Steve Radford
Chairman of The Liberal Party
41 Sutton Street
L13 7EG
0151 259 5935

For Publication

Dear Editor,

We in The Liberal Party have had the longest commitment to devolution of any party, Therefore it may come as a surprise to many that ,across the three northern regions, we have been advocating a no vote


The White Paper makes it clear that an elected Regional Assembly will have few real powers.

What is on offer in nothing like Scottish or Welsh devolution.

Lord Rooker stated that there will be no more power or money!

However power will be taken from existing councils (planning, transport, fire and possibly police) and put in the hands of an even more remote assembly

The Government literature says the assembly is to be elected by Proportional Representation.

This is blatantly untrue, two thirds of the seats will be elected by first past the post in mega constituencies.

One Assembly member for a constituency of 100,000 will undermine any sense of accountability

If readers believe in devolving power and strengthening local government, the conclusion must be an overwhelmimg NO vote,
Cllr Steve Radford
Chairman of The Liberal Party

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown unite to say 'No'

Namesake 'enemies' united over vote
Sep 26 2004
By Matt Mckenzie, Sunday Sun

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were at each other's throats again yesterday but agreed on one thing . . . they're both voting "No" to the regional assembly.

The pair - namesakes of the Prime Minister and Chancellor - joined forces to declare their opposition to a government for the North.

Another "No" voter, John Prescott, who shares a name with the minister behind the assembly, had planned to attend but couldn't. There was no suggestion that his Two Jags had broken down . . . or that he had been nicked for double parking!

Tony Blair, 53, of Durham, said: "The proposed assembly will have absolutely no powers and will be another talking shop and a huge waste of money."
Mr Blair, a businessman who runs Pasta UK, in Peterlee, County Durham, attended Bow School, in Durham around the same time as the future PM was round the corner at the city's Chorister school.
He said: "Business will turn this place around, not politicians."

Solicitor Gordon Brown, 50, of Gateshead, said: "I asked the Chancellor to open my new office in 1990 but, unfortunately, he declined.
"As for the assembly, it will do nothing and cost a lot. A better idea for the region would be for a North East plc, where everyone is a shareholder.
"We should buy up the capital of this region - the Metro Centre, the bridges - so that all the money spent here stays in the region.
"The assembly is just going to be another Labour talking shop and, after seven years in Government, what have they done for us?"

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Yes Campaign kicked again by business

Home rule blow
Sep 24 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal

Business leaders last night dealt a blow to regional assembly campaigners by saying they cannot endorse devolution plans because they would not help North-East firms.

At the CBI's final council meeting before the referendum, members concluded the 10 challenges over powers and costs put to the Government have still not been met.

The CBI will not give a formal recommendation to its members to vote `no' when ballot papers go out next month. But chairman Rod Taylor admitted the council's sceptical view is likely to sway business chiefs.

The move is a blow to the `yes' campaign, as it cites economic prosperity and more jobs as two of the major benefits of an assembly. Privately, however, devolutionists are relieved as they had braced themselves for an outright recommendation to vote `no'.

Mr Taylor said: "We confirmed our position that decentralisation of decision making would make a difference. However, from our discussions that's not effectively what's on offer.
"The 10 key challenges have still not been addressed despite a number of meetings with John Prescott.
"Therefore, it's difficult for us to see how the current proposal will benefit business within the region."

The CBI's scepticism provoked a furious response from Regions Minister Nick Raynsford on a visit to the North-East last month, when he accused director Steve Rankin of being out of touch with business and taking "a negative view for political purposes". The organisation will continue to press Government for more decentralisation in the event of either a `yes' or `no' vote in November.

But not all council members backed the CBI stance. Bob Coxon, a `yes' supporter, said: "I firmly believe that an elected North-East regional assembly will benefit the business world in the North-East and am convinced that it will have a beneficial economic impact throughout the region."

Meanwhile, the Forum of Private Businesses, a pressure group representing more than 1,000 small firms in the North-East, came out staunchly against an assembly. Chief executive Nick Goulding said: "What is on offer for the North-East is no more than a pathetic imitation of devolution, a half-baked dog's dinner."

A spokesman for North East Says No said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that there is zero enthusiasm in the business community for an assembly."

Friday, September 24, 2004

...while the official campaign sat on its hands

Following the distribution of a government information leaflet to all households in the North East Region, supposedly setting out the facts relating to the proposed elected regional assembly, a number of egregious errors were discovered by campaigners, not least the people’s "North East No" campaign.

Formal complaints were made to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and the Electoral Commission last week and, by the beginning of this week, it was learned that the ODPM was prepared to issue a letter of correction, but only in respect of one error, relating to the costs of local government reorganisation in the Durham area, and then only for distribution to residents in the Durham area.

With the letter due to be sent out this Monday and no response having been received from the ODPM, we yesterday consulted lawyers in London and then wrote to the Minister of Local Government, Nick Raynsford, giving him a deadline of 5 pm that evening to undertake to circulate all the households in the region with corrections to the original leaflet.

Raynsford’s office asked for more time but, by mid morning, nothing further had been heard and a writ was thus prepared seeking to require the ODPM to withdraw the limited-circulation correction and to distribute a more comprehensive correction to all households.

The writ was served at 3.11 pm, this afternoon and, at the direction of the Court, a copy was served on the Electoral Commission, as an interested party. The papers will be reviewed by a Judge on Monday, when a decision will be made as to a hearing.

Throughout these events, the officially designated "No" campaign (NESNO) was kept fully informed of developments, and invited to join with the action as equal partners with the North East No campaign.

NESNO, however, was unable to come up with an official response and no representative of the campaign was present with us when the papers were served. A number of other campaigning organisations, however, did attend, to show solidarity.

Therefore, in what is a critical stage of the campaign, we see the government being accused of promulgating misleading information and failing to respond when complaints are made, with action taken by an unofficial and under-funded people’s campaign while the "official" campaign apparently sits on its hands.

So nice to see democracy in action!

North East Small Business not impressed with Prescott's Plans




The campaign to create an elected North East Assembly has failed to win the support of small firms, a leading small business lobby is saying today.

The Forum of Private Business Chief Executive Nick Goulding said the FPB had found considerable hostility to the proposals among its members in the North East.

"Many of our North East members are unconvinced that what is proposed will create anything other than another layer of toothless and expensive politicians and bureaucracy,' he said. "What is on offer for the North East is no more than a pathetic imitation of devolution, a half-baked dog's din n er. The assembly would have no power over public services and control over less than two per cent of Government expenditure in the region. Moreover small businesses do not want decision making taken away from their local councils, over matters such as planning, and transferred to a remote tin pot assembly."

Mr Goulding said the muddled manner in which the Government had handled the referendums in the North, cancelling polls in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber at the eleventh hour, had left employers deeply unimpressed.

" Many of FPB's North East members have little confidence in the Government's North East Assembly proposals,' he said. "The referendum campaigns have been an utter shambles across the North. It is perceived that the Government axed the Yorkshire and North West referendums because they feared they would take a kicking at the polls. The sense of chaos has been compounded by both John Prescott and his deputy Nick Raynsford who built up expectation, ahead of the Regional Assemblies Bill, that more powers would be included in it - over areas like transport and Learning and Skills Councils - but when the bill arrived those promises were unfulfilled. Ultimately, the vast majority of small businesses we speak to cannot perceive any benefit to them from creating a North East Assembly. Furthermore there is real concern that the running and setting up costs will exceed Government estimates triggering hikes in council tax bills."


Please find a selection of comments from FPB members in the North East.

Kathy Evans, Vendetta Business Services, Gateshead said:

“I’m against the proposals as they strike me as yet another layer of costly bureaucracy. I’m not persuaded that any real power will actually be devolved to the region and at worst it will just be more people elected similar positions already provided by the existing structure. I worked for a local authority when it moved from Northumberland to Newcastle upon Tyne and the disruption caused and costs involved were a nightmare. I’m not sure that any benefit the area gets will justify the upheaval and expense. "

Katherine, Leghorn Industrial Finishing Specialists, Gateshead said:

“I’m against the proposals as we already have enough politicians and councillors getting paid by rate payers and a regional assembly will probably just add more to the list. I believe that nothing will change other than local rate payers getting even less value for money. We do not want another extra layer of bureaucracy.”

Nigel Bruce, SafeChem, Chester-le-Street said:

“I can’t personally think of one reason why an elected North East assembly would be good for the area. My worst fear is that it will resemble the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, a labyrinth of council officials adding layers of bureaucracy to local decision making. I can see no benefit for the local people of the idea. If it gets off the ground there will be a huge amount of money wasted and it will fall on local ratepayers to fund it, even though those who benefit most from it will be those directly employed by the assembly.”


Kieron Hayes, Press Officer FPB

tel: 01565 634709mobile: 07775756308 fax: 0870 2419570 email:

FPB; the pressure group that's polls apart


Head Office:Ruskin ChambersDrury LaneKnutsfordCheshireWA16 6HA

No Campaign takes the Deputy Prime Minister to High Court

Press Release

North East No Campaign

10 am 24th September...2004


High Court Writ to be Served on Deputy Prime Minister by No Campaign

Following the notice served on the Rt. Hon Nick Raynsford yesterday and the failure of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to take any positive action to correct the factually incorrect leaflet 'Have Your Say' for all 1,900,000 voters in the North East Referendum, the North East No Campaign has been left with no choice but to launch an action in the High Court today.

Lawyers have prepared an application in the public interest for an emergency Injunction with papers to be lodged today at the Royal Courts of Justice. A writ will be served on John Prescott's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Letters of objection requesting a full correction of the leaflet have been ignored by the ODPM, the Audit Commission and the Electoral Commission, leaving the No Campaign with no choice but to take this drastic and high profile step. The urgency is due to the fact that a partial correction is due to go out to only 220,000 households in the North East on Monday 27th September, yet the errors affect all 1,900,000 voters.

Lawyers at Cherie Blair's former chambers, 4-5 Grays Inn Square, Grays Inn, yesterday put Rt Hon Nick Raynsford on notice that the No Campaign would be taking this action. To see the copy of the notice click here.

The No Campaign's lawyers received a fax last night at 5.15pm from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister requesting more time, and they have lawyers working on a response.

The papers will be lodged by Neil Herron and Colin Moran of the North East No Campaign along with their legal representatives at 2pm today at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London (bringing back memories of the Metric Martyrs Case and ironically this time the people putting the Government before the courts rather than vice versa).

Neil Herron states, " We have given the Deputy Prime Minister repeated opportunities to address the factually incorrect statement which gives the impression that people will be elected under proportional representation. Also, the partial correction addressing the incorrect cost figure for local government reorganisation has been admitted BUT there needs to be a correction for everyone who received the leaflet, not just County Durham. The people across the whole of the North East cannot be expected to vote on the North East's future based on a misleading document. We do not wish to jeopardise the referendum, but a decision affecting ours and our children's future cannot be made without everyone having the correct information."

Colin Moran states, " The clock is ticking and we are aware that their lawyers are urgently working on a response to attempt to avoid court action. We hope that respect for the North East public's right to be informed and that a common sense solution would be in the best interests of everyone."


Neil Herron
Campaign Director
North East No Campaign
48 Frederick Street
Tel. 0191 565 7143

Neil Herron
Mob. 07776 202045

Colin Moran
Mob. 07802 448 635

Newcastle Evening Chronicle

Why they say NO
Sep 23 2004
By Peter Young, The Evening Chronicle

A poster campaign aimed at persuading people to vote against a North East Assembly was launched today.

Posters will be appearing on billboards at between 25 and 50 sites across the region in the run-up to the referendum on November 4.

Meanwhile, leaders of the North East Says No campaign challenged Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to provide every voter with copies of the Government's draft Assemblies Bill.

They say this will enable voters to see for themselves what is proposed and cut through the arguments over whether people are being misled.

The key arguments of the business-led No campaign are that an assembly will lead to higher council taxes, will not give more power to local people and will create more professional politicians.

Leaders were in Durham today to officially launch their campaign with the slogan "Politicians talk. We pay".

Papers for the all-postal referendum will start going out to voters on October 18.
The No campaign has a council of around 100 members, mainly from business, and the coalition also includes teachers, doctors, academics and farmers.

Its plan is to mail every voter and business and target teachers and doctors.

Any assembly is expected to be based in Durham, with 25 elected members representing people across Tyne & Wear, Northumberland, County Durham and Teesside. A tier of local government in Northumberland and County Durham would be axed.

Businessman John Elliott, chairman of manufacturers Ebac and chairman of North East Says No, said: "The Yes campaign are trying to claim that creating 25 extra professional politicians will give local people more power.
"That's obviously not true and it will just lead to higher council tax. We will be getting this message across with posters, billboards, leaflets and public meetings.

"I am confident that when people realise what's on offer in this referendum they will vote no."
Ian Dormer, director of Rosh Engineering in Newcastle, said: "A regional assembly will not give local people more control and London will still stay in control over the things that really matter like jobs, health and education.

"All an assembly will do is create more professional politicians and lead to higher council tax. It will just be politics as usual for the North East."
Yes view
Supporters say an elected North East Assembly would have the power to improve the lives of people across the region.

They say an assembly would enable decisions to be taken by elected representatives in the North East rather than by civil servants 280 miles away in Whitehall.

Prof John Tomaney, chairman of the Yes campaign, said it would have wide-ranging powers on jobs, transport, skills, housing, planning and public health.

"It will have responsibility for setting the budget of the regional development agency, providing funding, approving its strategy and appointing its chair and board members," he said.
"An assembly would have considerable freedom to allocate funds according to regional priorities."

Today's Letters

22nd September 2004
Elected Assembly will undermine local government
As a recently elected member of the London Assembly, I strongly urge thevoters of the North East to vote No to a similar body in the North East.

The setting up of regional assemblies is a deliberate fraud, designed togive the impression that decisions will be taken closer to them, when infact the whole thing is an exercise in weakening local control andgiving more power to central and Brussels government.

The Mayor andAssembly in London is a body which administers large budgets and whichsimply carries out orders from afar. We are effectively elected civilservants with limited scrutiny powers and no power over legislation.On everything from Congestion Charging to the micro detail of local policy, we depend upon Brussels or Westminster diktat. We have just lost our traditional London buses because of a Brussels ruling.

If you do vote Yes, you will not be voting for local decision making. You will be voting to strengthen centralised decision making in London and Brussels,with a team of 25 ineffective politicised local scrutineers runningalong in the wake with neither the resources nor the will to effectivelychallenge threats to local interests.That is no substitute for effective local government.

The foundation stone at London's City Hall which I pass every day bears the inscription"home of London Government". Some "Government". I call it the BlarneyStone, but I am not tempted to kiss it.
Damian HockneyLeader,
UK Independence Party Group London Assembly
City Hall
Tel 020 7983 4883

What price information? What price democracy?

£1m Assembly bill demand
Sep 23 2004
By Ross Smith And Daniel Cochlin, The Journal

The group fighting against a North-East regional assembly has called on John Prescott to spend £1m of public money sending the draft bill to every voter in the region.

To read the full story click here (worth it for the picture of Prescott)

Lib Dems Say Government "Fumbled" and "stuttered"

Lib Dems urged to push for regional assemblies
Hélène Mulholland in Bournemouth
Wednesday September 22, 2004
The government has "fumbled" and "stuttered" over its campaign for regional government, Lib Dem local government spokesman, Ed Davey, said today.

Speaking on the fourth day of the Liberal Democrat annual conference, Mr Davey said his party should seize the opportunity to rescue the "yes" campaign "to show it's about trusting the people of the north east, not about Labour."

Boasting of their recent electoral success in the north-east local authority bastion of Newcastle, where the Liberal Democrats wrested the council leadership from Labour after a 30-year tenure, Mr Davey told conference that an elected regional government was the only way to eliminate the 170 unelected quangos choking the north-east.

"A 'yes' vote is the only way to start to sweep aside this and put people in charge," he said. "But once again, New Labour stuttered when they needed to be bold, allowing John Prescott to fumble the case for regional democracy. But we must still win that vote."

Mr Davey also seized the opportunity to reframe his commitment to axing the property-based council tax and replacing it with a local income tax, as a Liberal Democrat "tax cut".
"We believe tax is necessary, and when it's necessary, it must be fair," he said. "This will be a major tax cut - delivered by Liberal Democrats.

A tax cut for families on modest incomes, a tax cut for pensioners, and for the majority of households. Our plans mean nearly nine out of 10 pensioners will gain - over half will end up paying no local tax at all."

Northern Echo 23rd September... Councils take Legal Advice

Legal action on assembly leaflet starts
by Tony Kearney

Legal action: Neil Herron
CAMPAIGNERS against the proposed elected North-East Assembly will file papers in London's High Court tomorrow calling for a judicial review of a controversial Government information leaflet.

The North-East No campaign, led by former Metric Martyr Neil Herron, is embarking on legal action over the Your Say leaflet, which was issued by the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to the 1.9 million people in the region eligible to vote in November's referendum.

The Government admitted the controversial leaflet contained a factual error over the relative costs of local government reorganisation in County Durham if the region votes in favour of an assembly.

It agreed to spend more than £100,000 sending clarification notices to all the 220,000 households in the county.

However, the North-East No campaign said the correction should be sent to everyone who received the original leaflet, at a cost expected to be almost £1m.

The release of government information has emerged as an increasingly contentious issue in the referendum campaign over the past few days.

Earlier this week, North East Says No -the official opposition to the referendum -lodged a complaint with the Electoral Commission over the wording of the preamble to appear on the ballot paper, while Durham County Council was recently advised by the ODPM to remove its logo from its advertising.

North East No is seeking clarification of the date for the beginning of purdah -the period leading up to an election in which government groups are prevented from issuing information that could be viewed as supporting one side or another.

The Government's position is that purdah will begin on October 7, four weeks before the vote is declared, but Mr Herron is arguing that the purdah should already be under way because it is less than four weeks until the ballot papers are issued.

The increasingly tense atmosphere in which the referendum campaign is being conducted was highlighted yesterday, when the Association of North-East Councils, the group that represents the region's 25 councils, postponed the release of an anticipated statement on the proposed location of the assembly.

In July, 13 of the association's members called for the assembly to be based in Durham City, and a statement outlining the views of the entire membership was expected to emerge when the group met yesterday in Newcastle Civic Centre.

However, chairman Councillor Bob Gibson, the leader of Stockton Borough Council, said that in light of the complaint being lodged by Mr Herron, the release of the statement was to be postponed until the association could take further legal advice.

Regional Organisers Letters

Berwick Advertiser
21st September
Government has made misleading statements over regional assembly
— The Government has made misleading statements in its ‘Have Your Say’ leaflet, delivered to every household in the north east prior to the referendum on a regional assembly.

In particular, it says that there will be around 25 elected members — ‘they would be elected — as in Scotland, Wales and London — by a system of proportional representation to help prevent domination by a single party and to help ensure a balance of opinion’.

Sounds fine, but an examination of the actual Bill shows that the picture is very different. There will in fact be ‘constituency members’ and ‘regional members’ and all the constituency members will be elected on the ‘first past the post’ system, by simple majority. “The constituency members will make up the majority”.

In other words, the same old party domination will be very evident. If any independent does try to stand for election he or she is going to face an uphill struggle unless he or she is very wealthy. How, for example, could an individual canvas or leaflet 1.9 million voters and have any hope of being elected as a regional representative under PR?
So much for the Government’s ‘information’campaign.
North East No Campaign,
Berwick Area Co-ordinator. via e-mail.

Sunderland Echo News 23rd September

'North East can make it work'
LABOUR party boss Ian McCartney has urged voters to say Yes in the North East assembly referendum.
He was visiting Sunderland to meet city councillors in the run-up to the big vote.Mr McCartney, party chairman, was also following up a promise to visit the city again after he met councillors in the run-up to this year's local and European elections.

He was speaking as Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy announced he was in favour of an assembly while UKIP Euro MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk said it should be a No vote.

Wearing a Yes campaign badge on his suit lapel, Mr McCartney said the referendum was a chance for people to have a greater say in shaping the future of the North East.He is MP for the North West constituency of Makerfield and said he was "disappointed" when plans there for a referendum were pulled earlier this year.He said: "The assemblies are about sticking up for ourselves, making things happen, giving regions a stronger voice and having more confidence in ourselves."

Mr McCartney remained confident, however, that referendums would go ahead in the North West and in Yorkshire and Humberside.The idea behind a North East assembly of 25 members, that could be based in Durham, is to give it spending and planning powers in areas such as transport, economic development and public health which are currently held by civil servants.

No campaigners believe, though, that it will be a "talking shop" with no real power and add another layer of Government to the North East.

Mr McCartney said: "Assembly powers are coming from central Government, not local government and are a chance for the region to speak up for itself."We are always being told by the No campaign that an assembly will not influence Government. That message breeds cynicism and despair. The Yes message is a positive campaign about having pride in communities."There's £1billion spent every year by Government departments here in the region, or on behalf of the region, but when the No campaign says we don't want, or have to have regional government, we already have it and this is about making it more accountable."I am confident the North East can make it work. "

Voters are getting ballot packs in the middle of next month and the referendum result is expected to be announced at midnight on Thursday, November 4.

Assembly leaflet misleading, says Herron
NORTH East No campaigners were holding last-minute talks with lawyers before lodging a judicial review at the High Court tomorrow.

Neil Herron, campaign spokesman, said "misleading information" had been put out by the Government in the run up to the referendum.

He said the Government was already writing to voters in County Durham correcting a mistake over the cost of local reorganisation and it should do the same for the rest of the North East.

There were also other questions and differences in the Your Say leaflet and the assembly that was published in July. This was over future rules and how members might be elected.

Mr Herron added: "We want to make it abundantly clear that we wish the referendum to go ahead. "It is not our intention to force a postponement."

A spokeswoman from the ODPM said the Durham information was being corrected with a separate mailshot to voters and it stood by the rest of the Your Say leaflet.

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