North-East Still Bottom of the League Table

Article excerpt

Your coverage of the recently released Competitiveness Index (The Journal, November 13) shows a high level of optimism about the economic future of the North-East.

What you haven't mentioned is two facts from the report that seem quite important to getting a balanced view of the regional situation. Firstly, that the North-East is still bottom of the league table in this report, beneath Northern Ireland and Wales.

That's not surprising given that for most economic league tables, including unemployment, employment and productivity, the North-East sits squarely in the relegation zone.

Secondly, if you look at localities, three of the five least competitive localities in England and Wales are in the North-East: Easington, Hartlepool and Tyneside. Of the 25 most competitive localities, 23 are in London, and two are in the South-East.

What the report shows is that nine years after a Labour Government was elected by Northern and Western constituencies, their economic policy remains obsessed on strengthening London, whilst neglecting their core electorate who brought them to power to heal the economic scars of the Thatcher years.

The Index report shows that the limits of that policy are being reached: London is congested in every sense, European Union regional funding is winding down without any Government commitment to replacing that lost spending and the North-East remains extremely vulnerable to an economic recession.

It is time for a new policy approach to really support businesses in the region. Nine years on, no one is listening to North-East demands for a fair share of Government investment in road and rail transport. National planning rules designed for an overheated South-East are choking new job opportunities.

If you must take a positive message from the story, it is that despite all these disadvantages, the North-East has managed to avoid an economic implosion. Just imagine what might happen if anyone were to give us a tiny fraction of the supports, subsidies and subventions that southern regions enjoy. But no one seems interested in that political battle, when it is easier just to lie back and be grateful that things are finally taking a turn for the better.

Dr PAUL BENNEWORTH, Research Councils UK Academic Fellow, Institute of Policy and Practice, c/o CURDS, 4th floor, Claremont Bridge, Newcastle University, Newcastle

More cost-effective than the turbines

SIR Robert McAlpine suggests installing a wind turbine and solar panels at five schools in Gateshead ("Bid for green schools", The Journal, November 8).

At first sight this seems a good idea. Teaching children to conserve energy within the context of school design and construction is educationally useful because the concepts of energy efficiency rely on all those fundamental aspects of environmental science, mathematics and economics which are so desperately needed by young people today.

How then do we explain to these kids that the invisible, "unsexy" things such as insulation, passive solar heating and controlled ventilation, are enormously more cost-effective than the micro wind turbines or flashy solar-photovoltaics sprouting on the school roof?

How indeed, when the necessary building materials are unsubsidised, and indeed carry VAT, whilst the far less useful, but very expensive microgenerators on the roof are subsidised to between 30% and 50% of capital cost and may also benefit from large renewable obligation payments on electricity generated?

When the kids leave school, they will discover as a further setback to their "green" training, that if they want to qualify for a grant for a wind turbine they will first have to install all that costly wall and roof insulation at their own, unsubsidised expense. The only consolation will be that it saves more energy than the turbines and photovoltaics provide.

Dr JOHN ETHERINGTON, Llanhowell, Pembrokeshire

Why the almost total news black-out? …