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THREE OUT OF FOUR COUNCILLORS FAVOUR ELECTED REGIONAL ASSEMBLY

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Almost three quarters of the north west's councillors are in favour of an elected regional assembly, according to a...
Almost three quarters of the north west's councillors are in favour of an elected regional assembly, according to a poll released today by YES! for the Northwest. Of those councillors who responded to the campaign's survey, 72% said that they thought an elected assembly was a 'good' or a 'very good' idea; just 26% said that they thought it was a bad idea.

The poll gives a glimpse of the strong support across the region for the north west to have a stronger voice in Westminster, and for the need to decentralise government. Even those who claim not to be in favour of regional government agree that the region needs a stronger voice - one of the key arguments of the YES! campaign.

Of those responding 75% believe the region needs a stronger voice, with only 16% disagreeing. 76% believe that central government is too remote to be effective (compared to 15% who disagree) and an impressive 81% - four out of five councilors - think there is a real need for better co-ordination of public services at the regional level.

Although both sides in the devolution debate claim 'cross party' support, the 85 councillors responding to the YES! campaign poll reveal a significant division between Conservatives on the one hand, and Labour the Liberal Democrats and independent councillors on the other. Conservative councillors universally follow the national party line, with 100% saying that are not in favour of an elected assembly; conversely 90% of Labour councillors and 83% of Liberal Democrat councillors want to see an elected assembly established. Only 67% of Conservatives, however, were opposed to the region having a stronger voice.

YES! campaign board member Mike Shields welcomed the councillors' supportive response:

'We will be doing more extensive and in depth surveys in the future, but what this early poll shows is that there is a real groundswell of support amongst local councillors for an elected regional assembly that gives the Northwest a stronger voice. Our survey also shows that many feel that central government is simply too remote, and that we need better co-ordination of vital public services at the regional level.'

Even though Conservative councillors were negative about the prospect of an elected assembly, Mr. Shields saw some signs of devolutionary tendencies amongst the Tories:

'A third of all Conservative councillors think that the region needs a stronger voice and around half of them think that we need better co-ordination at the regional level; set against the 100% vote against an elected assembly this shows a serious inconsistency at the heart of current Conservative thinking. Only an elected regional assembly can truly address the need for a stronger voice and better co-ordination for England's north west.'

Notes

1. The YES! for the Northwest campaign contacted all local councillors across the north west by email during early 2004. The results were analysed by a professional research company and are available to representatives of the media.

2. An elected Northwest Assembly will have power and strategic influence over areas such as public health, housing, transport, the environment, jobs and skills. The assembly will be made up of no more that 35 members and will have an annual budget of£780m. It will also influence how a further£1.6bn is spent. Crucially, the assembly would inherit powers that currently reside with unelected civil servants and unaccountable public bodies. It will not strip away powers from local councils.

3. There are disparities compared with devolved administrations as well as London and the South East. The north west receives£36bn in public funds each year. If its per capita share of the public purse were the same as Scotland's, that figure would be£42bn.

4. The initial areas of responsibility covered by an assembly are set out in the White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, published in May 2002. The government recently announced that a draft Bill - setting out in detail the powe rs and responsibilities of an assembly - will be published in June. A referendum will be held in October on the question of whether to establish a 35-member regional assembly for the north west region. The exact date of the vote will be announced in June.

5. Business leaders publicly backing YES! for the Northwest include: Geoff Muirhead, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group; John McGuire, chairman of the North West Alliance for Skills; Oliver Whitehead, chairman of Alfred McAlpine; Anil Ruia, director of Wrengate; and Robert Hough, deputy chairman of Peel Holdings. Other prominent figures include: Lord Terry Thomas of Macclesfield, former chairman of the NWDA; and Mike Shields, its former chief executive.

6. The YES! campaign is an independent organisation, chaired by broadcaster and businesswoman, Felicity Goodey.

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