The campaign was bolstered by an estimate that devolution would create council tax hikes to cover an estimated £25m bill for a regional assembly.
Peter Olsen, one of five directors on the NESNO board and the chartered accountant in charge of filing the campaign’s accounts by early 2005, said: ‘It would have cost too much money to the people of the northeast with a surcharge on council tax. This would have been capped in the first year at £2.50 per band per ratepayer and an average £25 extra per year, then the cap would have been lifted and the assembly raised as an extra precept.
‘A total of 86% of the local chamber of commerce, which includes most of the business community and accountants in the area, voted against the assembly as it was considered a complete waste of money.’
Almost eight out of 10 (78%) of voters dashed the hopes of deputy prime minister John Prescott of offering the northeast the chance to create an elected regional government. It was the first outright rejection of devolution since Labour came into power in 1997.
John Elliott, chairman of NESNO, hailed the decision as ‘a great achievement’ for the people of the region and a sign of a ‘confident northeast’.
The decision came as a major blow for both the government and the ‘Yes for the northeast’ campaign that argued the assembly would give a voice to the region and return power to local people from non-elected bodies.
Heather Hancock, head of regional development at Deloitte, said: ‘On one hand this means there is little disruption, but people will never know what improvements could have been made.’
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