Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Ship is Sinking...Is there a Steward on Board?

Sunday Telegraph
December 26th 2004
Christopher Booker's Notebook

The year that Prescott saw his dream become a nightmare
With the possible exception of David Blunkett, no minister suffered a greater personal humiliation in 2004 than John Prescott, with the overwhelming rejection of his plan for an elected regional assembly in the North-East.

It was intended to be the forerunner of similar assemblies in seven other English regions, thus completing the greatest project of Mr Prescott's career: his personal crusade to complete the "Balkanisation" of the United Kingdom by dividing it into 12 "Euro-regions", each with its own elected parliament.

Generally missed in the wake of Mr Prescott's defeat, however, is the extraordinary shambles that has been left behind, which now threatens to blow up into a political scandal. When he set up his eight unelected regional assemblies in 1999, the legal standing of these bodies was remarkably inconsistent and unclear. Their members were nominated by local authorities or local organisations, such as trade unions. The money to pay for their offices and hundreds of employees was given on an ad hoc basis by local councils and central government, with the idea that this would in due course be regularised by elected assemblies.

The collapse of Mr Prescott's dream has raised a hefty question mark over this chaotic system. Who is legally responsible for employing all those officials, paying their salaries and providing for their pensions? Many of the local authorities that have helped to foot the bill of £30 million a year are becoming restive.

Yorkshire East Riding council has already pulled out of the Yorkshire and Humberside Assembly, saying that it is no more than a "money-wasting talking shop". The leader of Medway council in Kent wants his council to withdraw support from the South-East assembly. Other councils in the South-West and the North-West may follow suit. This will leave several hundred employees – many of them in Brussels, where each assembly has its own office – dependent for their salaries and pensions on bodies that are either limited companies or have no legal status.

Neil Herron, the tireless director of Neara (the North-East Against a Regional Assembly), has established that several of these bodies are "unincorporated associations", which are strongly advised under statute not to incur financial obligations because their members are "likely to be personally liable" for the association's debts. In some instances, the councillors or "stakeholders" nominated to these bodies may find they are personally liable for contracts and pension rights worth tens of millions of pounds.

In November, Mr Herron raised these potentially embarrassing points with Stephen Barber, the director of the North-East Assembly – itself an unincorporated association. Mr Barber's response was that the assembly had deferred considering its legal status until next summer.
For the sake of the assembly's employees, it might be desirable to move these issues to the top of the agenda – before Mr Prescott finds himself at the centre of another nasty political mess.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

South East Assembly under siege

"Carol Hodson"
"Edward Huxley"
Sent: Wednesday, December 15, 2004 9:43 AMSubject:

RE: Further information

I apologise for the delay in getting this information to you.
I can confirm that five people are in receipt of a car allowance.
The car allowance awarded range from £ 3317 to £5949

From: Edward Huxley []
Sent: 11 December 2004 15:34To: Carol HodsonSubject:
Re: Further information
In this, dated November 19 you say that you will get back to me on the question of car allowances when you have spoken to your chief executive.Have you had a chance to speak to him on this and what was his response?
Edward Huxley

From: "Carol Hodson" <>
To: "Edward Huxley" <>
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2004 9:53 AM
Subject: RE: Further information
The initials PDG- stand for Planning Development Grant- a grant from ODPM To explain further our income from ODPM comes in two parts from ODPM and specific grants cover specific costs incurred by the Assembly. There is a requirement on the Assembly to report quarterly to ODPM on expenditure,giving details of expenditure by cost line. This quarterly requirement also requires us to forecast the next quarters activities and associated costs.The initials SEERAWP stand for South East England Regional AggregatesWorking Party. This is a separate piece of work that we do for ODPM forwhich there a re specific outputs and reporting requirements.
Re Car allowances. I would like to get my Chief Executive's agreement to issuing this information to you. I will get back to you on this as soon as I have a chance to discuss it with him.Also a point you make earlier in your email. No council is forced to make a subscription to the Assembly it is for each local authority to decide. If they do not pay the subscription however they are not entitle to participate in Assembly meetings or vote at meetings.

From: Edward Huxley []
Sent: 20 November 2004 09:23
To: Carol HodsonSubject:
Re: Further information
I assure you that I have no intention of carrying on this correspondence indefinitely but there are some points arising out of your reply.It seems my information about your next budget was correct; it is very nearly £4million.Can you please tell me what the abbreviations PDG and SEERAWP stand for?
I assume ODPM funding refers to the office of the Deputy Prime minister;this of course should be called taxpayers` contribution - same applies toother subscriptions no doubt, such as the amounts my own local council Runnymede and county council Surrey are forced to make.
Regarding car allowances: I appreciate that individual salaries are confidential. However there is no reason why you should not disclose the total number of staff concerned and the amount of money paid out.Finally I want you to understand that there is nothing personal in theremarks I have made: I am sure the people employed by the SEERA are decentand intelligent. The sad thing is that you are all involved in a complete and utter waste of your time and our money. I hope all Regional assemblies will soon be closed down.
Edward Huxley

From: "Carol Hodson" <>
To: "Edward Huxley" <>
Sent: Thursday, November 18, 2004 3:39 PM
Subject: RE: Further information
Re Budget
The final budget for 2005-06 will be presented to Exec Committee on 21 Jan but I attach a copy of this year's agreed budget which includes an indicative budget for 2005-06 as agreed by the plenary in March of this year.
Re Car Allowances
These are part of individuals salaries and thus remain confidential.
Re travel expenses paid to members travelling outside the region.The total amount claimed to date in this financial year is £1100.
RE Costs of running the Brussels office
The Brussels office costs are not met by the Assembly so I cannot tell you the costs of running the office. The office is shared by many organisations. The Assembly budgeted contribution to those costs and half share in Policy Officer represents the total costs under the Europe heading in the attached budget.

From: Edward Huxley []
Sent: 18 November 2004 08:44
To: Carol HodsonSubject:
Re: Further information
Thank you for your prompt reply. I shall have to take the copies of the accounts myself; it will not cost £12.50. Of course I applaud your wish to economise, but it does not seem to me that you are applying this to other areas.In 12 months SEERA`S expenditure leaped from £2million to £3million and I have heard that it may go to £4million this year. Is this correct? All this money (our money) on a useless talking shop.
With regard to cars: please let me have details of the lump sums that are paid.I had read that MPs receive a special mileage allowance, but did not know that this was available to civil servants and councillors as well. Are you aware that for "ordinary" people the allowance is 40p a mile up to 10,000miles and 25p. a mile after that? Looks like another case of one law for us and another for them.
I get confused about SEERA and SEEDA. As far as I am concerned it makes no difference. What I object to is the over generous allowances paid to the chairman and others for what is only part time work.
In Cllr. Skellet`s case you may be aware that, as leader of Surrey C.C. he gets another, and larger, payout.Can you tell me the amounts paid to members travelling outside the region atSEERA`s request?
Also please tell me the cost of running the office in Brussels.
Edward Huxley

From: "Carol Hodson" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 16, 2004 5:17 PM
Subject: Further information
Regarding your request for further copies of the accounts . There will be a charge for this in line with our access to information policy of £2.50 perset of accounts, the copy of the accounts that I sent to you was on the basis of goodwill, we normally charge for all photocopies of our documents.I will require the money in advance and will then send out the copies to you.No staff are provided with cars. Some staff receive a lump sum taxable car allowance. The rate varies per individual. Those who are not in receipt of a car allowance may claim mileage, the current rate is 50.5p per mile forcars over 1200cc, 40.4 for cars with less than 1200cc. The arrangements are in line with local government rates.The Chair, Deputy Chair and Vice Chairs, and Mr Bevan are all Directors ofSEERA not SEEDA Ltd. Their full names are listed in the accounts. The remuneration that the Chair, Deputy Chair & V Chairs of the Assembly are allable to receive is an allowance as part of their duties on the Assembly. No further salary, fees or expenses are received by them in respect of beingDirectors of SEERA Ltd. Mr Bevan receives a salary from his employment with the Assembly and again receives no fees, expenses or salary for being aDirector of SEERA Ltd.The following allowances are paid, please note however that the Chair andVice Chair of the RPC are not Directors of SEERA Ltd. Also no expenses arepaid to members unless they travel outside of the region at the Assembly's request.
The current allowances for the offices of the Assembly are as follows:
Executive Committee Chair £11,460p.a payable in monthly instalments
Deputy Chair £5,730 p.a. payable in monthly instalments
Vice Chair £4,010 p.a payable in monthly instalments
Members £575 p.a payable in two equal half yearly instalments, August andFebruary
Regional Planning Committee Chair £8,015 p.a payable in monthly instalments Vice Chair £2,805 p.a. payable in monthly instalments
Members £575 p.a payable in two equal half yearly instalments, August andFebruary
Members who sit on both committees are able to claim both allowances.
However only one Chair's, Deputy Chair's or Vice Chair's allowance can beclaimed.
Individual salary payments are confidential. The total expenditure on staffand members allowance are included in the accounts.I hope that this information answers all of your requests for information.Carol HodsonDirector of ResourcesSouth East England Regional AssemblyBerkeley House,Cross LanesGuildford GU1 1UNT: + 44 (0) 1483 555210 (direct)F: +44 (0) 01483 555250E:

That Parking Problem Again!

High Barnes
7th December 2004

Your ref: PHEP/PBM/NC/96256134
Our ref:96256134

Ms K Valentine
For Parking and Business Service Manager
Newcastle City Council
Public Health and Environmental Protection Division
Enterprise and Environment Cultural Directorate
Civic Centre
Newcastle Upon Tyne

Dear Ms. Valentine,

Excess Ticket No. 96256134 Veh. Reg. No R24PJR
11/10/2004 – STADIUM CAR PARK (OFF)

I have been forwarded the enclosed form by Mr. Colin Moran the registered keeper of the vehicle above in relation to the alleged offence. We were attending a function in St. James’ Park and had been advised to use the space by the organisers but I understand that Mr. Moran has, or is in the process of challenging this alleged offence.

You make reference to the fact that I am required ‘pursuant to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984’ to return the statement of facts within seven days. I would be grateful, as you allude to the fact that this is an offence and could result in legal action, if you could send me a copy of the relevant section of the act and the nature and scale of offence.

Secondly, you are asking me to pay ‘a cheque/postal order for £60,’ for an alleged offence.

I do believe that Newcastle City Council are attempting to extort money from me in an unlawful manner. I have enclosed a copy of the Bill of Rights 1689, enacted and formally entered into Statute following the Declaration of Rights 1689. I draw your attention to the section highlighted :

“That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.”

This clearly states that a conviction is necessary before a fine can be imposed. Therefore, Newcastle City Council have no authority to demand money for an alleged offence unless it is dealt with by a Court of Law and your actions are unlawful.

I would be grateful if you could also clarify the nature of the alleged offence committed by myself and provide a copy of the section of the relevant statute because neither the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 or the Road Traffic Act 1991 makes any reference whatsoever to expressly repealing the Bill of Rights 1689.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have enclosed a copy of the relevant section of the Road Traffic Act 1991.

As stated in the ‘Metric Martyrs’ Judgment in the Supreme Court of Judicature, Queen’s Bench Division (18th February 2002) by Lord Justice Laws and Justice Crane (I will paraphrase, but have included a full copy of the Judgment with the relevant sections 62 and 63 highlighted):

62 “We should recognise a hierarchy of Acts of Parliament: as it were ‘ordinary’ statutes and ‘constitutional’ statutes. The special status of constitutional statutes follows the special status of constitutional rights. Examples are Magna Carta, Bill of Rights 1689, The Act of Union, the Reform Acts etc.”

63. “Ordinary statutes may be impliedly repealed. Constitutional statutes may not…”

As you are no doubt aware, Sunderland City Council went to quite considerable lengths to achieve the Metric Martyrs Judgment and the precedent set by Lord Justice Laws is clear and unambiguous. In highlighting this and enclosing the relevant documentation members of Newcastle City Council can now have no excuse for ignorance in this matter.

I would be grateful if you could confirm that the ultimate legal responsibility not only lies with the Chief Executive, but also with all the elected members of Newcastle City Council and I would be grateful if you could confirm that you will advise the relevant officers of Newcastle City Council that they are breaking the law by attempting to claim powers forbidden to them.

Therefore, please accept this letter as formal notice that I require any allegations against me to be specified and referred for trial in a proper and orderly manner, should you wish to proceed against me for the alleged offence.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron

Cc .Ian Stratford, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council
cc. Peter Arnold, leader, Newcastle City Council


1. Copy of Your communication PHEP/PBM/NC/96256134
2. Copy of Road Traffic Act 1991
3. Copy of the Bill of Rights
4 .Copy of the Metric Martyrs Judgment

Assembly role is questioned

IC Coventry
Dec 13 2004

The role of the West Midlands Regional Assembly is to be questioned at the full Coventry City Council meeting tomorrow.
Conservatives have moved a motion urging the council to discuss its future after the "no" vote to regional elected assemblies in the North East of England.
The West Midlands assembly is not an elected body and does not have the full powers an elected assembly would have.
Its role is to act as a "sounding board" for the regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Attention to be turned on the Councils

12 Frederick Street

Ged Fitzgerald
Chief Executive
Sunderland City Council
Civic Centre

14th December 2004

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,

Following the overwhelming and emphatic rejection of an elected regional assembly by the North East public in the recent referendum, I wish to raise a number of concerns that I have as a Sunderland ratepayer over the continued existence of the unelected North East Assembly.
On 14th November 2004 I copied you in to an e-mail sent to NEA Director, Stephen Barber, which raised a number of serious questions. I have enclosed a copy of this e-mail for reference.

These questions relate to Sunderland City Council’s use of ratepayers monies to continue funding this organisation.

Can you confirm that in the event of the North East Assembly having a funding problem that there will be no question of Sunderland ratepayers meeting any of the liabilities of this organisation, or that of the Association of North East Councils?
As these organisations are funded by year on year ‘voluntary’ and not ‘contractual’ subscriptions are you happy with the legal position of these organisations creating (now 32) permanent paid positions and has the Council taken independent legal advice?
The Director of the North East Assembly, Stephen Barber has already stated that there is liability insurance in place to cover this eventuality. As the organisations (NEA and ANEC) are both unincorporated associations it appears that this claim may not have legal standing. Have you had sight of this insurance and has Sunderland Council taken legal advice with regard to that policy and potential liability that could arise?
Has Sunderland paid the 2004-2005 subscription yet, and if so, to whom? NEA or ANEC?
Can you confirm that the Assembly’s ‘Strengthening Regional Accountability’ budget of £1.8m over three years is finished in 2004?
Is it the intention of Sunderland Council to continue to support the existence of the unelected North East Assembly?
Can you please advise as to how Sunderland’s members of both NEA and ANEC are chosen?

I trust you will make available this communication to the current members from Sunderland City Council so that they are aware of their own personal positions.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron

House of Cards will fall if all the Tories resign their positions

Financial Times
Tory councillors derail plan for homes in east
By Roger Blitz,
UK Affairs Editor
Published: December 14 2004 02:00

John Prescott's house-building strategy was dealt a further blow by Tory councillors after they succeeded in putting plans on hold to build 478,000 homes in the east of England.

The deputy prime minister has put responsibility for long-term housing strategies in the hands of unelected regional assemblies, made up of councillors and representatives from business and voluntary groups.

Assembly officials have been working with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on how regional strategies can reflect the government's aim of tackling chronic housing shortage in and around London.
But the Tory-led assembly in the south-east last month scaled back a target of 720,000 homes for the region and now the east of England regional assembly has also had second thoughts.
The assembly had agreed in October to endorse the 2001-21 target of 478,000 homes. But on Friday it backed a motion from the Conservative group on the assembly to suspend that endorsement after failing to win government guarantees on funding for infrastructure to support housing growth.

The public will be consulted on regional housing plans, which will also be examined by independent assessors. But the deputy prime minister has the final say on the actual targets to be maintained.

Brian Stewart, chief executive of the assembly, said the housing target was always conditional on infrastructure support. "The assembly has kept its side of the bargain, but the government hasn't kept its side," he said.

The assembly wanted £1.5bn from the government in affordable housing subsidies, transport improvements and other facilities to support local communities. But it said funding for new transport, including roads, was "grossly inadequate".

Similarly, the south-east assembly cited lack of government guarantees on infrastructure when it voted to agree to only around two-thirds of the 720,000 target set by its officers.

In a letter to the east of England assembly, Lord Rooker, the regeneration minister, said he recognised some new transport schemes had been put back, but that "given finite resources, difficult decisions have to be taken on priorities between investment proposals". He admitted: "Unless infrastructure keeps in step with growth, we will not achieve sustainable communities."

The Campaign to Protect Rural England, which is alarmed at the amount of housebuilding planned outside urban areas, welcomed the east of England assembly's "belated" stand against government growth targets. But questioned its desire for new roads. "More roads aren't the answer - they would simply make it worse," said Henry Oliver of the campaign.

With the Tory-led regional assemblies hardening their stance against the government, the debate on housing growth is dividing on party lines. Michael Howard, Tory leader, has called on Tony Blair to abolish the regional assemblies, while the prime minister has challenged Tory councillors to resign their assembly positions.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The People have spoken...but just ignore them

One NorthEast
Regional assembly debate has put region in the spotlight
Margaret Fay, chairman of One NorthEast, today said there was "a good deal to be positive about and build upon" in the North East. She was commenting following the 'no' vote in the referendum on plans to establish an elected regional assembly. She said: "The people of the region have had their say and One NorthEast will continue to work with national government to ensure its economic policies reflect the needs of this region. The region's economy is on an upturn and there is a good deal to be positive about and build upon ... We will continue to work in close collaboration with the existing, non-elected, North East Assembly to take forward regional issues such as future plans for transport. Without doubt, the assembly debate has put the region in the spotlight and we will be working to capitalise on this to continue to promote the North East, nationally and internationally."

Electoral Commission ignored...AGAIN!

December 10, 2004
Fraud fears as post replaces the ballot box
By Jill Sherman,
Whitehall Editor and Dominic Kennedy

THE Government defied its own independent advisers yesterday by declaring that all-postal ballots could go ahead despite fears of widespread fraud and intimidation.The Electoral Commission, which has recommended that all-postal ballots be abandoned, accused it of setting the wrong priorities in putting turnout above public confidence. The Conservatives said that the Government’s “reckless fiddling” was undermining the electoral system by throwing away the ballot box.All-postal voting could begin in next May’s local elections. Officials said that the Government would consider applications by the 166 councils which hold elections next May to carry out all-postal ballots.The recommendation comes in a report published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Constitutional Affairs in response to the Electoral Commission’s review of four all-postal ballot pilot schemes held in the European and local elections in June. A second report recommends tightening electoral law to guard against fraud.The Government was persuaded to go ahead when the pilot schemes boosted voter numbers significantly in the four areas, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands. A referendum on a North East regional assembly attracted a 48 per cent turnout, double that expected. In 1999 turnout for the European elections was 24 per cent. This year, for combined European and local elections it was 42 per cent, compared to 37 per cent in non-pilot areas.The Government said that the figures had underlined ministers’ view that all-postal ballots maximised participation.“Notwithstanding the conventional basis for the next general election, we are not persuaded by the commission’s recommendation that all-postal voting should not be pursued in future UK elections,” John Prescott’s office said.Oliver Heald, the Shadow Constitutional Affairs Minister, said: “There is a risk that the kind of intimidation and fraud that was common in the 18th and 19th centuries becomes widespread in future.”In August, the Governnment accepted the Electoral Commission’s recommendation that no more all-postal ballots be held after The Times discovered widespread allegations of fraud and intimidation in the pilot schemes. Four police forces in North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber are investigating alleged electoral fraud. Two petitions have been sent for trial challenging election results in Birmingham which was not part of the pilot scheme but saw applications for postal votes treble.Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, said that all-postal voting in her constituency had disenfranchised Asian women voters. “There were people going around with carrier bags collecting up ballot papers and taking them to a safe house where they were filled in,” she said. “In a number of Asian households, the father filled all of them in for the whole family.”She said that intimidation failed to result in prosecution because people would not report families or neighbours.The Electoral Commission said that the public did not like all-postal ballots. “The Government is using different criteria on postal voting and prioritising increased turnout,” a spokeswoman said. “There is clear public support for choice in voting methods.”The Electoral Reform Society said that the pilot areas saw turnouts rise by five percentage points. “Clearly there is an advantage. There are also costs. Those include the increased risk of fraud,” it said.Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, said: “I’m surprised that the Government’s determination to have somewhat higher turnouts has overridden the issue of confidence. Turnout isn’t everything. Some of the higher turnouts in Ukraine were among the most worrying features of the election.”

New Local Government Network

Regional government needs sorting out says NLGN think tank
This was published: 2004-12-09
Independent think-tank, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has called on local and central government to move urgently to ensure multi-level governance works better in the UK’s regions, "otherwise they will continue to be sold short".

Speaking on the eve of the launch of a new report Living with Regions: making multi-level governance work, author Emily Robinson of NLGN, said: “The way that local and central government work with the regional bodies over the forthcoming months is likely to set a pattern of relationships that will endure for many years to come. It is vital that they get this right. Whether the legitimacy of regional working comes to focus on central government agencies such as Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices or on the aggregation of local interests in the Regional Assemblies, it will have huge implications for both the regions themselves and the nature of governance in the UK.

The report has been welcomed by Local Government and Regions Minister, Nick Raynsford MP, who writes in a foreword of the need to face up to the unfolding nature of the devolution agenda: “Developments [in devolution] have created new challenges for those involved in the public sector’s delivery of services and policy, and have posed a new set of questions. For example, how can local government best influence regional decision-making? When does a ‘hierarchial’ approach to policy and delivery work, and when do more collaborative ways of working have to be found? […] This report provides a useful contribution to the how we can meet the challenges posed by the changing pattern of governance”.

Based on extensive interview research conducted across the UK, Living with Regions: making multi-level governance work reveals the need for a deeper examination of major issues of accountability, finance and inter-dependency between different tiers of government, with Ms Robinson remarking: “Multi-level governance is by its very nature complex and we should not shy away from that. The appropriate spatial level at which to take decisions will vary from policy area to policy area. But there are wider issues of accountability, finance and inter-dependency that need to be examined across the board. In a multi-level system, the connections between organisations are as important as the organisations themselves”.

The NLGN report carries a number of key recommendations for the future of multi-level governance in the UK, including:

> Make the Regional Assembly member position in local government into a high-profile Cabinet portfolio.

> Strengthen the scrutiny capacity of Regional Assemblies and extend it to take in the work of more regional and sub-regional agencies.

> Establish a ‘recall’ mechanism, whereby elected bodies could collectively call non-elected agencies to account.

> Instituting ‘Regional Observatories’ as statutory bodies with a duty to share knowledge and best practice across as well as within regions.

> Sharing buildings and workspaces.

> Making better us of technology to aid remote working and information sharing.

As Ms Robinson concludes: “In the end, what we are looking for is a combination of formal mechanisms and a commitment at all levels of governance to working in a more integrated fashion”.

Meanwhile, Geraint Williams of BT – which has supported the report’s publication – commented: "Multi-level governance is about bringing different institutions and organisations together and this isn't easy. Through our partnership work with Suffolk County Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council, where we are helping build a two-tier local authority joint venture, we are seeing that the private sector can act as an important third-party, facilitating the process, assisting communication, removing barriers and ultimately driving the collaboration through to delivery. A public-private approach gives local authorities the benefits of leading edge private sector expertise while still retaining direct control of service provision.”

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities. NLGN was recently awarded ‘Think Tank of the Year’ by the political and cultural monthly, Prospect magazine.

The report is being launched on Thursday 9 December in central London at an early evening debate featuring Cllr Peter Chalke, Leader of the LGA Conservative Group; John Biggs, London Assembly member (Labour) and Deputy Chair of the London Development Agency; Simon Hodgson, Director of the Assembly Secretariat, West Midlands Regional Assembly; Geraint Williams, Business Strategy Manager for BT Education & Local Government; and the report’s author, Emily Robinson of NLGN.
Related links to this article: New Local Government Network

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Early Day you're talking

EDM 228

That this House notes the overwhelming and decisive rejection of elected regional assemblies in the North East referendum by 78 per cent. to 22 per cent. and widespread public opposition to regional government in England, to higher taxes and to more politicians; notes that the transfer of powers to regional chambers was predicated on the ultimate establishment of elected regional assemblies; asserts that there is now a clear democratic deficit, as the regional chambers have no accountability, no mandate and no legitimacy; and calls on the Government to end its stealth regionalisation and for the regional chambers to be abolished, and for the powers that have been seized by the chambers to be returned to England's boroughs, counties and cities.

More rumblings across the country...just a matter of time

This is Plymouth
12:00 - 06 December 2004
A row over the upgrading of one of Devon's vital road corridors has opened a new can of worms over the South West's Regional Assembly.The assembly pressed for an upgrading of the A303/A30 but its pleas went unheard by the Department of Transport, which this week opted instead to improve the A358 from Ilminster to the M5 at Taunton.Today the assembly has demanded to know why its views were ignored - amid calls from Plymouth business leaders to scrap the organisation because it has no teeth at national level.

Even one of its members, South Hams District Council leader Richard Yonge, has admitted he finds it difficult to see what purpose the assembly serves - and would scrap it.Mr Yonge said he believed the assembly would be ditched if the Tories were in power. "I don't want it," he said. "It's never done anything for us. If the Government changes it will probably go, but we'll all end up with regional assemblies if it doesn't."

Councillor David Morrish, Devon County Council's executive member for the environment, said: "What's the point of having a Regional Assembly, which is designed to give a local voice to decisions which are being taken nationally, when it's totally ignored?"

The Transport Secretary's decision effectively leaves the area with only one strategic road route into the far South West."An upgrade to the A303/A30 would have provided additional capacity to accommodate peak weekend and bank holiday traffic to and from Devon and Cornwall, with the M5 west of Taunton already close to capacity at these times."The Secretary of State has ignored the views of everyone - local authorities, the business community and the people and parishes of the Blackdown Hills."

The assembly urged the Government earlier this year to back the A303/A30 project, which many regard as a vital alternative route between Plymouth and London.But its bid was turned down and a top Plymouth businessman is leading calls for the unelected assembly now to be dissolved.

Neill Mitchell, chief executive of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said the assembly should put itself up for election.The body, which meets in Exeter but is based in Taunton, costs around £4.5 million a year to run, paid from the public purse.He said: "While the assembly doesn't actually cost us much directly, there are lots of hidden expenses in terms of the time committed by people who attend its committees and sub-committees."Mr Mitchell said the assembly had put its efforts into developing a regional planning strategy, transport and the environment. He said: "It's wasting everybody's time - but we feel there is the need for an economic strategy."Mr Mitchell added: "The Government has presumed to progressively put powers into the hands of regional assemblies, but the one thing that hasn't happened is that these assemblies have become democratic."The South West does not have an assembly which is elected directly. I don't think as a business body that we would wish to deprive people of the opportunity of having an assembly, but we feel that it should be tested by the public."

Plymouth City Council sends four members to the assembly - leader Tudor Evans, Kevin Wigens, George Wheeler and Karen Gillard - at a 'membership' cost of just over £22,000 per year.The 117-member assembly is part of a secretariat which also runs the South West Provincial Employers' Organisation and the South West Local Government Association.Mr Wheeler defended the body's existence, but admitted its future might be in doubt after a referendum in the North-East firmly rejected an elected assembly.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has made it clear the South West's regional assembly is here to stay and says he has no intention of scrapping it or its secretariat, despite the mothballing of plans for referendums on making it a directly-elected assembly.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Sharp U-turn on all-postal voting

Dec 10 2004
By Zoe Hughes Political Editor, The Journal

All-postal voting could be reinstated following the success of the North-East assembly referendum, ministers declared in an apparent U-turn last night.
Local government minister Nick Raynsford refused to accept calls to scrap plans for more all-postal ballots despite watchdogs warning the system had been "marred by problems" during the summer's local and European polls in the North.
After those votes, the Electoral Commission urged ministers to drop elections where voters were only allowed postal ballot forms - a recommendation hastily agreed to by John Prescott as a way of preventing regional assembly referendums in the North-West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
But in an apparent policy reversal yesterday, Mr Raynsford said the turnout of almost 48pc in the North-East assembly vote on November 4 had helped "underline" the value of all-postal voting. Now the Government says it will keep the door open to all-postal elections saying it was not persuaded by the arguments against.
"We value the important work of the Electoral Commission in moving towards the modernisation of the electoral process," Mr Raynsford explained before saying the watchdog had "generated a useful debate" on how to improve elections.
It was only in August that the Commission recommended that all-postal voting schemes be scrapped, following problems in the massive trial across the entire North of England during the June 10 local and European elections.
There were delays in sending out ballot papers, the system was criticised as too confusing and in the North-East European poll, 18,744 votes were discounted because forms were filled incorrectly.
Last night Sunderland metric martyr and anti-assembly campaigner Neil Herron said serious questions now had to be asked about the future of the Electoral Commission. "The Government should make it quite clear it has ignored every single piece of advice and information from the Commission," he said.
"If they are going to carry on like this regardless, then they may as well scrap the Electoral Commission and give taxpayers back their money. The chairman (Sam Younger) should now be offering his resignation in protest."
Mr Younger, however, backed the Government's response, saying ministers were adopting 70pc of their proposals.
Gateshead East MP Joyce Quin said the North-East had proved all-postal voting could be conducted successfully.
She said: "The Commission really should have taken much greater account in its deliberations on the experiences of Gateshead and Sunderland, which have had all-postal ballots longer than anyone else."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Gauntlet is thrown down...

Northern Echo Letters
9th December 2004
IN 2006, a referendum is due on the European Constitution. It is essential that people can make an informed choice on this hugely important decision for Britain.
There were widespread complaints during the recent North-East Regional Assembly referendum of too little information too late. We mustn't make the same mistake again.
The European Parliament has approved funding of £6.25m for an information campaign ahead of the referendum, and I welcome this investment.
The referendum is an opportunity for Britain to take stock of where it stands in the world, how it relates to other countries, and how peace and democracy can best prevail here in Europe and globally.
The sooner we get on with that debate the better.
Fiona Hall MEP,
Liberal Democrat,
North-East England.

Fiona Hall MEP
55a Old Elvet,
Durham City
Tel: 0191 383 0119

Dear Fiona,

It's nice to see that you are prepared to stand up and be counted with regard to the upcoming debate on the European Constitution.
I wish to throw down a challenge to you to debate the issue on a public platform at a time of your choosing in order to assist with the challenging of any 'information' put forward.
I am sure that you will relish the opportunity to be able to convince the public that the Constitution will be of great benefit to their lives.
Look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron

The People's No Campaign
12 Frederick Street

The Noise is beginning

Scunthorpe Telegraph
12:30 - 06 December 2004
An Attempt is to be made to set up in North Lincolnshire a new pressure group called UK Deceived.An inaugural meeting of would-be supporters has been called for Tuesday at 7.30pm. The meeting will be hosted at the Scunthorpe Central Community Centre in Lindum Street.One of the supporters is Paul Potter, who has been a Scunthorpe market trader for 22 years.Mr Potter said: "The idea behind the group is to inform people about the consequences of Britain's membership of the European Union (EU) and future closer integration."UK Deceived will be a new embryonic non- political pressure group. We will lobby all the main political parties on all matters appertaining to the EU."Mr Potter said the new organisation would be loosely connected with the Grimsby-based UK Betrayed group, which had campaigned successfully against the recently proposed North-Eastern regional assembly.A guest speaker, whose name has yet to be announced, will be in attendance on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Herron's nomination by No Director, Colin Moran

Who are the Great Britons of 2004?
Daily Telegraph

We are looking for your nominations
Great Britons 2004 is a series of awards to be presented to the people who have done the most to personify British success in the past year.
And we need you to tell us who they are...

"As a Director of the North East No Campaign I have nominated the Campaign Director, Neil Herron in the category of Campaigner. His tireless efforts over the past two years were instrumental in delivering the massive landslide of a 78% 'No' vote in the recent North East Referendum. Although based in the North East he has become recognised as the most formidable people's representative in the campaign business nationally. The emphatic result was testament to his ability to challenge and expose the political classes and take the people along with him.

Also as Campaign Director of Referendum04 last year he created the campaign which forced Blair to concede to a referendum on the European Constitution.

The massively supported Metric Martyrs Campaign which first brought him into the arena some four years ago is still ongoing and his intervention has ensured that there have been no further prosecutions under the 'Metrication Regulations' since 2000.

This is your chance to endorse this man's efforts on our behalf to challenge the political class. A process which is gathering momentum and will continue to do so.

Please spare two minutes of your time and make your vote count.
Vote for Neil Herron.
Remember, democracy is not a spectator sport."

Yours faithfully,
Colin Moran
North East No Campaign
Frederick Street
Tel. 0191 565 7143

Great Britons 2004

Daily Telegraph
Poignant search for the Best of British
By Philip Johnston (Filed: 02/12/2004)
John Peel and Fred Dibnah, two quintessential Englishmen who died this year, and Jane Tomlinson, the terminally-ill triathlete, are among more than 1,600 nominations so far received for the first "Great Britons" awards celebrating outstanding achievement in the past 12 months.
Peel, the DJ and radio presenter, and Dibnah, the Lancastrian steeplejack who spent his latter years defending the nation's industrial heritage, have been posthumously recommended for the prize, which is sponsored by Morgan Stanley in partnership with the RSA and the Telegraph.

Jane Tomlinson: terminally ill but still a tireless fund-raising athlete
The award is aimed at those successful in their field who have also shown particularly British attributes, exhibiting a doggedness of spirit leavened with humour and self-deprecation.
Nominations close a week today and can be made at There are seven categories: the arts, sport, public service, business, science and innovation, creative industries and campaigning.
A testimonial to Peel reads: "This man summed up all that is British with his sympathetic approach, his support of the underdog and his love of family and country."

For campaigning, the most nominations have been received on behalf of Neil Herron, a former market trader from Sunderland who was a key figure in defeating John Prescott's plans for a North-East regional assembly. One supporter said: "He stood up for the idea that governments govern only with the consent of the people." Another said: "He epitomises the bulldog spirit."

Also named is Gary Frankum, a former speedway star with ME who campaigns to raise awareness of the illness.

The sports category is led by Kelly Holmes, the double gold medal winner in Athens – "who struggled, failed, battled and eventually won through", and Matthew Pinsent, the four-time Olympic rowing champion, who retired from the sport this week.
There is also support for Jane Tomlinson, a mother of three, who is terminally ill with breast cancer but completed the Florida "Ironman" challenge and cycled from Italy to Britain to raise money for charity.

She was described by one voter as "an inspiration to all… who meets and exceeds the criteria of British success".

Among the businessmen nominated are the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and Philip Green. The sciences are represented by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, and the physicist Roger Penrose.

Arts nominations include Benjamin Zephaniah, the poet, David Hare, the playwright, and Dido, the singer. Gurinder Chadha, the film-maker behind Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, and Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer, are nominated in the creative industries category.

The nominations will be whittled down to a shortlist by a panel of judges before the winners in each category are decided and a final winner chosen.

The announcement of who is Great Briton of 2004 will be made at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice next month.

So that's what it was all about!

Assembly protesters to fight for devolution
Dec 8 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal

The campaign which opposed an elected North-East assembly is to re-form next month - to fight for more devolution to the region.
Former members of North-East Says No, the official anti-assembly campaign, will launch a think-tank in the New Year exploring issues including the system of elected mayors.
They will also begin an opposition movement to the European Constitution, over which Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to hold a referendum.
But the move was slammed as "highly contradictory" by ex-leaders of the Yes lobby, which was trounced by 78pc to 22pc in last month's regional vote.
The new group, which is yet to be named, will once more be headed by businessmen John Elliott and Phillip Cummings, who acted as NESNO's chairman and treasurer, respectively.
And James Frayne, the research director at the London-based New Frontiers Foundation, whose role as NESNO's campaign director prompted a series of "southerner" jibes, will once more be involved.
Mr Elliott said: "The people of the North-East made the right decision rejecting the regional assembly.
"However, I think we all agree that we can't just carry on as we are and we have a great opportunity to generate a real debate on how we take the North-East forward.
"We need to develop alternatives which take powers away from politicians and civil servants in London, and which give local people and professionals real power over services that matter.
"The same principle means we should not be handing more powers over the economy and crime to Brussels in the EU Constitution."
Mr Frayne said the group will start to publish discussion papers and hold meetings in the spring.
But Ross Forbes, former campaign director for Yes4theNorthEast, scoffed: "I think what they're proposing is highly contradictory.
"They didn't have any alternatives during the referendum campaign and we certainly don't know what they have to offer now.
"With the region having decided the way it did, the one big idea has been knocked off the agenda. We don't think there's any easy answers. Knee-jerking into setting up think tanks is a little bit rash."
Neil Herron, former leader of the rival North-East No Campaign, said: "I would be in favour of anything which will help promote and benefit the North-East.
"But I think now we're seeing that the European Constitution was obviously part of their agenda when they set up."
Mr Herron said he will launch a "people's campaign" against the constitution in the New Year.

Northern Echo
Dec 8th 2004
'No' campaigners to launch devolution pressure group
Tony Kearney
KEY figures from the campaign that delivered the No vote in the referendum on a directly-elected assembly for the North-East are to establish a pressure group demanding greater devolution for the region.
Buoyed by their overwhelming success in November's poll, in which almost 80 per cent of the electorate voted against the proposed assembly, leaders of the now-disbanded North East Says No are to set up their new organisation in the New Year.
Recruitment of members is expected to begin in January, starting with former supporters of the No campaign, then widening out to the business community and the professions.
Members of the as-yet-unnamed organisation say it will look at ways of transferring power from politicians and civil servants in London to people in the North-East.
The body would play a key campaigning role in the North-East in any future referendum on the European Union constitution.
Leaders of the organisation say they have no plans to field candidates in forthcoming elections or to staff a full-time office in the short term.
However, achieving such resounding success in a referendum in which almost half the electorate voted is likely to give it an influential voice in regional affairs.
Throughout the referendum, No supporters argued that the status quo had left the region's economy lagging behind the rest of the country
But they said the proposed assembly would be costly and have no real powers.
The new body is being established by John Elliott, a businessman from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and campaign colleague Philip Cummings, with the backing of public relations expert Graham Robb and former campaign director James Frayne, all senior North East Says No figures.
They say it will publish discussion papers highlighting ways of bringing powers over policing, education and the economy back to the region.
One of the areas will be possibly increasing the role of directly-elected mayors.
Mr Elliott, who was the chairman of the no group, said: "I think we all agree that we can't just carry on as we are and we have a great opportunity to generate a real debate on how we take the North-East forward.
"We need to develop alternatives which take powers away from politicians and civil servants in London, and which give local people and professionals real power over services that matter."

Monday, December 06, 2004

Let your papers know the same

This is Exeter
11:00 - 30 November 2004
I understand that Plymouth City Council is still paying an annual "subscription" of some £35,000 to the South West Regional Assembly. I question whether this payment is legal. The assembly is a voluntary, unelected, unaccountable body with no legal identity whatsoever, and the electorate has never assented to the use of taxpayer's money for this purpose. Nor have they assented to the assembly appointing permanent staff on its own account. It now has a staff of some 60 people, and a salary bill of £1.8 million according to its latest accounts, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year. It is outrageous that, following the overwhelming rejection of an elected assembly in the North East referendum, these bodies continue to exist as unelected self-appointed quangos which appear to be out of control. Here in the South West there is even less appetite for this widely-disliked assembly, let alone a "popular demand". We need another layer of local government like a hole in our collective head.
Denis McCallum

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