Regions: `Deprived' English call for equality

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is facing a post-devolution backlash from English Labour MPs and senior figures in the regions who want public funds to be redirected away from Scotland and Wales.

Because of the formula by which spending is calculated, Scotland and Wales have built up a distinct advantage over the rest of the UK. In Scotland, pounds 1.20 is spent on public services for every pounds 1 spent in England. That means longer waiting lists and larger class sizes in England. For example, the average primary teacher-pupil ratio, according to the latest available figures, is 23.5 in England, 22.6 in Wales and 19.9 in Scotland.

A patient in need of a hip or knee replacement in East Yorkshire could expect to wait up to 47 weeks, according to the College of Health, while in the Scottish Borders or in Mid Glamorgan the wait can be as short as 30 weeks.

Derek Foster, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland and joint chairman of the Education and Employment Select Committee, said his north-eastern seat was almost as far from Westminster as some Scottish seats and had equally pressing needs. Yet Scotland had received an extra pounds 2bn under Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review.

"Now they have got their assemblies but they have still got their select committees ... and they have still got secretaries of state in the Cabinet. I haven't objected hitherto, but I wonder what the point is now," Mr Foster said. One minister for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could be sufficient, he said.

Another north-eastern MP, Fraser Kemp, the Labour member for Houghton and Washington East, echoed his comments. "I am delightedScotland has a Parliament, but there are other places that have deprivation," he said.

It is not only the north that feels hard done by. Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the South West Regional Development Agency, said: "If you are sitting, as I am, in a huge region with some significant problems, extra resources would be incredibly useful."

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, the chairman of the North West Regional Development Agency, said that the region'sseven million population was two million higher than Scotland's, but it had no right to run its own economy. "People here are very proud, and very can-do. Now I anticipate much more demand for a move towardsregional autonomy," he said.

The calls for more money and power for the English regions come as the Conservatives stepped up their campaign for an English Parliament. The Tory MP for Billericay, Teresa Gorman, will today publish a book pressing the case. "This Government's constitutional changes are more radical than anything that has happened since Oliver Cromwell ousted the monarchy ... Tony Blair will to all intents and purposes be President of Britain," it says.