Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Leaders Call on Prescott

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Leaders Call on Prescott

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Higgerson

Business leaders in the North-East have written to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott demanding a meeting to discuss their concerns over plans for a regional assembly.

As revealed in The Journal two weeks ago, the North-East Chamber of Commerce and North CBI have laid down 10 conditions under which they would agree to back home rule.

They include ensuring that an assembly can be delivered at no extra cost to the taxpayer and guaranteeing a strong voice for business in the proposed new body.

Now the two organisations have set out their concerns in a letter to Mr Prescott in which they demand "more than just assurances" over their concerns about the proposals.

The letter, written by NECC chief executive George Cowcher and CBI regional director Steve Rankin, says business opinion towards devolution "ranges from sceptical to hostile".

"We have identified 10 fundamental issues that we believe ought to be explored and resolved by the information campaign you have launched in the region," it states.

"Our view is that unless these issues are addressed properly, then current, majority business opinion in the region will not be turned. Such an outcome would not be helpful in encouraging business engagement in any future elected assembly.

"At the moment, the creation of a new institution run by directly elected regional politicians, is not seen by the majority of regional business people as relevant to either the future prosperity of their companies, or to that of the North-East."

The letter is likely to meet with a positive response from the Mr Prescott who has already made clear his willingness to meet with the business leaders.

Last night a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "Mr Prescott will be happy to deal with the issues raised in the letter."

During his visit to the region last week to launch the Government's Great North Vote campaign ahead of next year's referendum, he said the issues raised by the organisations were "all valid questions". …

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