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Businessmen hear both sides of debate.

Pro and anti-regional assembly campaigners yesterday spelled out the pros and cons of home rule to business leaders.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) invited Sir John Hall to speak in favour of a North-East Assembly, and Martin Callanan, North-East Conservative MEP, spoke against it, at Durham's Ramside Hall Hotel.

Sir John said: "I firmly believe the North-East needs to control its own destiny and businesses need to take part.

"I am against huge, expensive buildings for politicians and local government workers, but I believe the time is ripe for a North-East regional assembly to control our own affairs and bring more stability.

"As things stand - no matter how well meaning a national government we have - we as businessmen are subject to whims and changes of policy which we cannot do anything about.

"I would expect business leaders to play an active role in a democratically elected regional assembly, which is preferable to non-elected quangos.

"A regional assembly must have money, power and strong leadership to succeed, and that is where the private sector should be involved.

"We in the North-East have a unique opportunity and if we do not grasp it we will live to regret it."

Mr Callanan, however, argued against a regional assembly, saying: "I may not always agree with Tony Blair but he is a capable politician and he represents a North-East constituency.

"The same politicians, MPs and councillors, would be elected to a regional assembly. I am getting many letters from constituents complaining about record levels of council tax. Nobody has written to say that they would like another body at regional level with the power to charge even more."

John Wright, North-East policy director for the FSB, said: "The jury is still out but it is important for our members to hear the arguments both for and against.

"Personally, I did have my doubts about a regional assembly but I am beginning to swing in favour of one. I now believe that we would live to regret a missed opportunity if we fail to elect a regional assembly."

Neil McKay
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 9, 2004
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