Assembly's New Chair Shares His Vision for the Future
Byline: By Brian Nicholls
Brian Nicholls asks Bob Gibson, the new chairman of the North-East Assembly, for his vision of the region and the challenges the North-East needs to address.
Bob Gibson firmly believes the North-East has a distinctive identity and culture and that it is one of the most diverse regions of the country. He says: "We have an impressive wealth of cultural assets and places of exceptional natural beauty, two world heritage sites and a growing profile of world-class public art.
"These are all assets which help to counteract outdated perceptions of the North-East, based on old images of an `industrial wasteland'," he says.
He thinks perceptions of the region are evolving and that the region is becoming more ambitious and forward looking. He points out that the North-East Assembly which he now chairs, together with a number of partners, is keen to ensure that what people think about the area reflects the positive aspects of all the region has to offer.
"Increasingly, people within the region feel the North-East is distinctively different - not only in terms of identity and remoteness from London, but also in the different social and economic challenges we need to address here," he says.
While he believes the region has to be positive about its achievements and attractions, it has to be realistic about its problems. Bob Gibson's personal frustration, felt on behalf of his own family, will be shared by many other parents.
He argues passionately against an economy in which sons and daughters like his have to migrate to the south of the country to find jobs matching their abilities and aspirations.
"While we can celebrate our rich cultural heritage and our recent achievements, we have to face up to the main challenges of the region - in both economic and social terms.
"We are presently the poorest region", he points out, quoting in support a recent parliamentary sub-committee that traced 1930 as the start of the decline.
"And information from Mori polls and other surveys say the gap is widening - a sad reflection on where we are," he warns.
Gibson is determined during his particularly significant term as chairman of the North-East Assembly to see the region get a bigger slice of the national cake.
The present assembly of 72 members comprises nominated representatives of the public, private and voluntary sectors.
Health, education, transport, planning, culture, crime and community safety, as well as support for regional development, are all portfolios this assembly is already taking forward.
It also has a role given to it by central Government for monitoring the performance of the regional development agency One NorthEast in implementing the regional economic strategy.
At the head of its agenda is the ambition to see the UK's economic gap between North and South bridged. Gibson, a North-East politician of more than 20 years' standing, declares: "The South-East cannot be the country's sole powerhouse we need to achieve regionally balanced growth.
"It cannot be considered acceptable, for example, that educational attainment is lower and work opportunities fewer here in the North-East than in other parts of the country. …