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NORTH-EAST CALLS FOR POWERFUL ELECTED ASSEMBLY

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A new report by the North East Constitutional Convention has called for the creation of a powerful elected assembly...
A new report by the North East Constitutional Convention has called for the creation of a powerful elected assembly for the region.

The Journal reports that the NECC has been given the job of drawing up detailed proposals for regional government to be submitted to ministers in the autumn. In a draft report, its recommends a 54-member assembly which will take over the running of the Government Office for the North East and numerous other functions.

But the plan is set to put the NECC at odds with 'Blairite' ministers who favour a 'slimline' assembly similar to London's.

Supporters of the London model include Hilary Armstrong, the local government minister, who said a 54-member assembly would be a case of 'jobs for the boys'.

She also opposes giving the assembly any role in delivering services, or taking over powers. She recently said that Welsh-style powers for English regional assemblies had been virtually ruled out.

'No government minister has ever suggested that English regional assemblies should have secondary legislative powers,' she said.

Ian Mearns, chairman of the Campaign for a Northern Assembly, said: 'Our job is not to second guess Downing Street. It is to produce proposals that command a consensus in the region.'

Convention co-ordinator Jonathan Wallace said: 'It is important to know what the government is thinking but we have to influence their agenda too. We can't ask for something they will never give, but we don't want to go in asking for something with next to no powers.'

The NECC is calling for an assembly along the lines of the Welsh assembly. Mr Wallace said: 'We are going along with the Welsh model. It is quite clear that the London assembly is a local government reform, rather than regional government.'

Another potential flashpoint concerns local government reform. Labour's manifesto that Northumberland and Durham CCs would have to go before a North East assembly could be brought in. But the NECC report maintains that an assembly could be introduced witbhout the need for a further shake-up in local government. It recommends that each of the 30 parliamentary constituencies would elect a member by first past the post, with 24 'top-up' members elected by PR.

The proposed assembly would take over powers currently held by quangos like ONe NorthEast and the Tecs as well as the GONE.

'Any model that did not make GONE answerable to an elected assembly would not represent devolution,' the report states.

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