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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 09:25 GMT
English 'want regional parliaments'
The Angel of the North, near Gateshead
Pressure for devolution has come from the North East
There is big support in the regions of England for devolving power from Westminster to elected regional assemblies, according to a new poll commissioned by the BBC.

Almost two-thirds of people (63%) want regional government, according to the survey, with less than a quarter (23%) opposed to the move, 8% undecided and 6% with no opinion.

The government is still putting together its plans for devolution but they are now not expected to be published until after the local council elections in May.

Referendums would be held in each region on whether to have the elected assemblies.

The BBC's poll shows enthusiasm varies between the regions.

Support for the move was highest in the West Midlands (73%), the North-East, North-West and Yorkshire and Humberside (all 72%).

The least support for a regional assembly came in those regions closest to London.

In the East 55% were in favour and 49% in the South-East - the only area where a majority did not favour the move.

In the South West 61% backed regional assemblies, with the figure 59% in the East Midlands.

London already has its own elected assembly and two thirds of its population support that devolution, the survey suggests.

The poll also shows the geographical areas with which people most identify.

Four key groups emerged:

  • Provincial (36%) - people who say they primarily belong to their local community

  • Englanders (27%) - those who say they primarily belong to England

  • Brits (22%) - people identifying most with Great Britain and the United Kingdom

  • Cosmopolitan (13%) - Those who say they primarily see themselves as belonging to Europe or "the world as a whole".

    The BBC poll suggests the most popular reason why people in England would support a regional assembly is to give their area a stronger voice in both Westminster and Brussels (72%).

    But many of those surveyed also thought having an elected assembly would boost their region's economic prospects.

    Other positive arguments for the shift given by those questioned were that it would bring government closer to the people (60%) and increase public pride in the area (58%).

    But most people also believe that regional assemblies could bring more red tape and bureaucracy (62%).

    Tony Blair, whose constituency is in the North East
    There is speculation Blair has ordered a rewrite of the devolution plans
    Opinion was divided on whether devolution would just produce a talking shop for politicians and would be a waste of money - 48% agreed with that view, 44% disagreed and 8% had no opinion.

    Whether the regional assemblies have tax-raising powers may be a key issue in the government plans, whose publication have already been delayed.

    The poll suggests the public are divided on the issue.

    Thirty-nine per cent were willing to pay extra taxes, levied by new assemblies in the form of a local taxation, to help improve local services, while 47% were opposed to such bills.

    There is speculation the plans have been delayed partly because Tony Blair has ordered a rewrite.

    He reportedly wants the referendums to make clear the choice between having the new assemblies and keeping county councils.

    That approach has come under fire from the Liberal Democrats, who say reorganising local government should be left to the regions themselves.

    The new poll suggests most people in England (54%) would not be worried if county councils were discarded to make way for the new bodies.

    Power wrangles

    But 42% would be concerned, with the figure highest in the South East (49%).

    There is likely to be wrangling over which powers are passed down from Westminster to new regional assemblies.

    Tackling unemployment, improving rundown areas and the environment and economic help are among the responsibilities many people would like to see taken over regional assemblies, according to the poll.

    Other services they would like to see passed from Westminster to the regions include transport (69%), schools (68%), policing (65%), NHS (61%).

     Choose a section from the list below:

  • The BBC survey was conducted by Opinion Research Business, who interviewed by telephone a random sample of 2,646 people in every English region from 1-10 March.

    The BBC's John Pienaar
    "There's a strong sense of identity in the North-East"
    See also:

    30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
    North-south split persists: Mandelson
    10 Mar 01 | UK Politics
    Ministers draw line under passport saga
    30 Aug 00 | UK Politics
    Lib Dems unveil devolution plans
    16 Feb 00 | UK Politics
    Regional policy 'confusion' criticised
    05 Dec 99 | UK Politics
    Blair: North-South divide 'a myth'
    17 Sep 99 | UK Politics
    Labour 'divided' on English devolution
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