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EDITIONS
Friday, 22 November, 2002, 14:11 GMT
North: Diversity and poverty
The Millenium Bridge in Newcastle
The region is developing a modern image and economy

Slowly the North East is reinventing itself. And slowly the rest of the country is starting to realise this.


Our dependence, still, on manufacturing is hit by the strength of the pound.

No longer, surely, are we looked on as a region with a perpetual background noise of colliery winding gear, shipyard riveting or factory hooters signalling shift's end.

Manufacturing is still very important - and still twice the size of any other business sector in the region - but the economy is now much diversified.

In Sunderland we have the country's biggest call centre 'village' with nearly ten thousand workers.

Newcastle computer software company Sage sits proudly in the FTSE 100 share index.

And who hasn't heard of the change in working practices wrought by Japanese car company Nissan, giving jobs to four thousand people on Wearside.

Nissan's car factory in Sunderland
Nissan's Sunderland plant is one of the region's biggest successes
And yet the old traditional North is still there, and you don't have to look to hard to see it, contributing to that most overworked of phrases the 'North-South divide'.

Our dependence, still, on manufacturing means we are hit by the strength of the pound.

And when North East manufacturing loses its competitive edge the result is the loss of 4,000 jobs - as we've seen this year.

Not surprisingly, the North East Chamber of Commerce head of policy Rachel Spence says the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement should reflect this hardship in a region that exports more than 80% of everything we make.

North-South divide

"We would like to see something that moves us towards a Euro referendum, not from the point of view of the Chamber being for or against the Euro in any way - we haven't made a decision on that yet - but more from the fact that it will end uncertainty for business and the region. I think business would welcome some certainty one way or another."

The region is also keen on plans for devolved regional government that could mean more aid for industry.

The divide is apparent in other ways.

There are about 94,000 unemployed people in the North East, nearly 8% of the workforce, more than two and a half times the national rate - palpably a North-South divide.

To complete the picture, add in the region's record of poor health and low education standards.

Complex reality And yet there is some merit in the arguments of those who claim the 'divide' is more complex than that. Perhaps the Chancellor himself will do so.

They point out that some town in the North - Thirsk for instance - have only less than 2% of the workforce without a job.

But in parts of London such as Lewisham and Newham the jobless rate percentage is counted in double figures.

They though, surely are merely pockets of poverty, while in the North we only have pockets of affluence.


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See also:

05 Nov 02 | England
21 Oct 02 | England
10 Sep 02 | England
08 Jul 02 | England
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