Prescott warns region against No vote

Last updated at 12:29 19 October 2004

A no vote in the forthcoming North East regional referendum would wreck plans for devolved government, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott warned today.

It would be at least a decade before the North East was offered another chance to vote on having an elected regional assembly, he said.

During a visit to a windswept Angel of the North, he told reporters': "It is a very important vote for the North East and it will not come back for at least 10 years if it is no.

"This is a great chance for the North East."

Mr Prescott urged the near two million electors in the region to vote in the referendum as he toured the iconic art structure on the outskirts of Gateshead.

He was accompanied by North Tyneside MP and former Cabinet colleague Stephen Byers as he held a photocall in blustery wind with a large inflatable red letterbox at the foot of the Angel.

Pollsters expect the referendum to be decided within the next few days as voters return their slips within the first week of voting packs being pushed through letterboxes.

With little over a fortnight to go, the no campaign has a clear seven-point lead, according to a Mori survey of over 1,000 voters.

That gap widens to 23 points among those certain to vote on November 4, according to the poll in the Northern Echo newspaper.

The referendum election campaign began in July with the official yes and no camps announced in mid-September.

The Yes4theNorthEast campaign has the backing of former Newcastle United chairman Sir John Hall, and Ray Mallon, the independent mayor of Middlesbrough.

The North East Says No campaign has a variety of business backers.

The Tories and the UK Independence party both back a no vote, while the Liberal Democrats are campaigning for an assembly - albeit with reservations about the body's lack of powers.

If the regional assembly is set up, the current two-tier local government in Northumberland and County Durham would have to be rearranged into a single tier and voters will be asked how this should be done.