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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 17:58 GMT
Blair orders north-south audit
Tony Blair rejects the generally accepted view of the north-south divide

Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked officials to compile a regional audit of how his government's policies have affected every part of the UK, his official spokesman said on Monday.

Mr Blair was sceptical of widespread ideas of a north-south divide and wanted to find out the facts for himself, said the spokesman.

The spokesman said the prime minister, whose own Sedgefield seat lies in the north east of England, was aware of the image of a jobs glut in the south east and gloom in the north, reflected in house prices.

But Mr Blair did not accept this general view, his spokesman continued: "His instinct is it's not as simple as that."

Officials will be asked to gather statistics such as job vacancies region by region and also to look within regions to find disparities.

"You can go a few miles from the City of London and find extreme poverty, for example," said Mr Blair's spokesman.

The prime minister acknowledged, in an interview with his local paper The Northern Echo on Saturday, there were significant differences of prosperity in different areas.

"There is a north-south divide. That it exists there is no doubt. We do have to bridge it, we have to narrow the gap," he said.

But officials insisted on Monday that Mr Blair was acknowledging the starkest statistical gaps appearing in official figures and now wanted to know the full picture.

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "The north-south divide as it is sometimes presented misunderstands what's going on. It's not as simple as people think."

The study is expected to be presented to Mr Blair "within days", said his spokesman. But what if anything happens after that was unclear.

"Let's get the information first," said the spokesman. "He wants to get an assessment of all the actual information that's available and make his own judgement."

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