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'STATE OF THE REGION' REPORT 'SHOWS THE CHALLENGES FACING NORTH'S NEW BODIES'

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A new 'State of the Region' report shows that 'the North's new regional bodies face a major challenge if they are t...
A new 'State of the Region' report shows that 'the North's new regional bodies face a major challenge if they are to end the era where we have been seen as the nation's poor relations.'

That was how Bryn Sidaway, chair of the North of England Assembly of Local Authorities - who also chairs the new North East Regional Chamber - described the findings of the NEA's new 'State of the Region' report which provides statistics on all key aspects of the economic, social and environmental fabric of the North.

The NEA report is produced every two years, but this latest edition is particularly significant because it will provide important information to both the regional chamber and new regional development agency on the issues they must tackle in regenerating the North in the 21st century - and already the development agency is using the report's findings in helping to prepare a new regional economic strategy.

Findings in the report include:

* Gross Domestic Product per head in the North is the lowest in England and about half that of the leading region in the Europe (Hamburg).

* The North's share of foreign investment projects into the UK--and the jobs they produce - has fallen significantly over recent years.

* In the last four years the region's already weak business base has weakened further - with the number of businesses falling ten times as quickly as in the UK as a whole. Levels of self-employment remain well below the UK average.

* The region's share of UK government grant assistance for economic development has fallen - grant offers of Regional Selective Assistance in the North dropped from almost£62m in 1995/96 to less than£19m in 1997/98.

* There are more women working than men in the North East - and more than a quarter of all employees are women working part-time.

* More than 6,000 people in the North East have been unemployment claimants for over five years - and the number of men between 45 and 65 neither in work nor seeking work is more than twice the national average.

* Average earnings are around 12 per cent below the national average - and the weekly household income is the lowest of any UK region - 19 per cent below the national average. Fewer people in the North own their own homes than any other UK region and car ownership is also the lowest - over 40 per cent of households do not have a car.

* The proportion of major roads which are motorways is less than half the UK average - only Wales has a lower proportion.

* In general young people in the North East leave school with lower qualifications than the national average - and young women are now more likely than young men to leave with two or more A Levels.

* Childhood mortality is above the national average, but the North now has slightly more doctors and hospital beds per head of population than in the UK as a whole.

* Although the incidence of recorded crime is falling, the North East has one of the highest levels - 10 per cent above the national average. The vast majority ofcrime in the region is property related, whilst crimes of violence are below the national average.

At yesterday's launch of the report cllr Sidaway stressed what he described as the 'stark messages for all of us in the region, for the government and for the campaign to ensure that we continue to receive a fair deal on funding from Europe and Whitehall.'

Said the NEA chair: 'Time after time the findings in this report underline the scale of the mountain we all have to climb in the north. Without doubt all those involved in rebuilding the economic and social fabric of the region have made tremendous efforts--but we have only just started the climb towards the better future we all want to achieve.

'Key to all our hopes has to be the reconstruction of our economic base - continuing the process of diversification, encouraging more 'home grown' companies through enhanced business support, education and training services, and continuing the drive to attract - and retain - inward investment.

'Vital elements in achieving that economic reconstruction will be the development of a comprehensive transport strategy for the region and a commitment to ensure that, through organisations such as Northern Informatics, we take full advantage of the communications and information technology revolution.

'What is clear is, whilst there is a tremendous determination in all sectors of the community to meet the challenges highlighted in the State of the Region Report, we cannot do it alone - and the issue of continued support from both Europe and our own government is central to all our hopes and ambitions.

'The economic, social and environmental problems facing the north would be infinitely worse were it not for the support - around a billion pounds in total - we have received through European regional aid in the past decade.

'This report shows the importance of us all redoubling our efforts to ensure that, when the new programme for European regional funding comes into operation next year, we retain as high a level of support as possible. Without it, the task of tackling the challenges identified in this report will be many times harder.

'Another key message we must all take from the report is that the North must be united in fighting its corner, whether it be in Europe or in its dealings with the UK government. We are going through a period of dramatic constitutional change - and soon we shall have a powerful new Scottish Parliament literally on our doorstep.

'The regional chamber, bringing together all sectors of the community and working with the regional development agency, offers us the chance to ensure that the North's voice is heard loud and clear - and we owe to region to make it work.'

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