Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Home Rule Can Be `Good for Region'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Home Rule Can Be `Good for Region'

Article excerpt

Byline: By Graeme Whitfield

Regional government could have huge benefits for the North-East even if it fails to catch the public imagination, a devolution leader said last night.

Addressing a meeting in Newcastle, Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan said that the campaign for a regional assembly would only interest the "anoraks" in the "chattering classes".

But the experience of devolved government in Wales had shown that it could have a real effect on people's lives, he said, particularly the very people who were most bored by the political process of constitutional change.

Mr Morgan pointed to the Welsh Assembly's recent decisions on education policy - deciding against university top-up fees and introducing an informal curriculum, without tests, for three to seven-year-olds - as a sign of how devolved government could make a difference.

Wales had also had big success in the last 18 months in creating new jobs, Mr Morgan said, something that could be repeated in the North-East.

He said: "It's the chattering classes, the people wearing anoraks, who will argue about changing the constitution.

"Ordinary people have too many pressures in their everyday life to think much about it.

"You have to get over that the outcome of a referendum could be that you can deliver a real meat-and-potatoes agenda for ordinary people.

"Once you've got over this paradox, you can deliver things that make a real difference to these people's lives, such as ensuring free prescriptions or putting free breakfast clubs in primary schools.

"In Wales we have an agenda to assist the equalisation of society, for bringing up the aspirations of people who historically have had low aspirations."

Mr Morgan was speaking at the second of four meetings organised by Northumbria University's Centre for Public Policy for people interested in the regional assembly debate. …

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