Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

74% of Businesses Say No to Assembly

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

74% of Businesses Say No to Assembly

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ross Smith

Company bosses will vote overwhelmingly against setting up a North-East Assembly, a poll of nearly 900 firms reveals today.

The news is a blow to the Government's devolution plans on the first morning of the Labour Party conference.

The poll, conducted by the

North-East Chamber of Commerce, found 74pc of members will vote `no' when ballot papers for the upcoming referendum are delivered next month.

Respondents' chief concerns were the cost of the assembly, the lack of powers over skills and transport, and a fear it would act as a barrier to decision-makers in Whitehall.

It also casts doubt upon claims by assembly backers that its chief benefits will be increasing the region's prosperity and helping job creation.

`Yes' campaigners last night claimed members were given "limited and biased information" by the chamber.

But the chamber's chief executive, George Cowcher, said: "This survey sends a stark warning that a major facet of the North-East community has yet to be convinced that a regional assembly would be a benefit.

"The business sector was willing from the outset to listen to both sides of the debate but it would appear that there is still too little flesh on the bones of the `yes' campaign to convince companies that there is a tangible argument for change.

"The results of this survey should be seen as a challenge for crucial areas of confusion to be clarified. "Only then will business buy in to the merits of an elected assembly."

President Alan Ferguson added: "Personally, I believe we are in a Catch 22 situation. If we vote against an assembly, we will be accused by the Government of not taking this opportunity. But if we say yes, we will get the blame if it is not a success.

"I believe a `no' vote is a vote for the status quo and I do not like the status quo. …

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